Freedom in the United States



No other democratic society in the world permits personal

freedoms to the degree of the United States of America. Within the

last sixty years, American courts, especially the Supreme Court, have

developed a set of legal doctrines that thoroughly protect all forms

of the freedom of expression. When it comes to evaluating the degree

to which we take advantage of the opportunity to express our opinions,

some members of society may be guilty of violating the bounds of the

First Amendment by publicly offending others through obscenity or

racism. Americans have developed a distinct disposition toward the

freedom of expression throughout history.

The First Amendment clearly voices a great American respect

toward the freedom of religion. It also prevents the government from

"abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the

people peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for a

redress of grievances." Since the early history of our country, the

protection of basic freedoms has been of the utmost importance to

Americans.

In Langston Hughes' poem, "Freedom," he emphasizes the

struggle to enjoy the freedoms that he knows are rightfully his. He

reflects the American desire for freedom now when he says, "I do not

need my freedom when I'm dead. I cannot live on tomorrow's bread."

He recognizes the need for freedom in its entirety without compromise

or fear.

I think Langston Hughes captures the essence of the American

immigrants' quest for freedom in his poem, "Freedom's Plow." He

accurately describes American's as arriving with nothing but dreams

and building America with the hopes of finding greater freedom or

freedom for the first time. He depicts how people of all backgrounds

worked together for one cause: freedom.

I selected Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 as a fictitious

example of the evils of censorship in a world that is becoming

illiterate. In this book, the government convinces the public that

book reading is evil because it spreads harmful opinions and agitates

people against the government. The vast majority of people accept

this censorship of expression without question and are content to see

and hear only the government's propaganda. I found this disturbing

yet realistic. Bradbury's hidden opposition to this form of

censorship was apparent throughout the book and finally prevailed in

the end when his main character rebelled against the practice of

burning books.

Among the many forms of protests are pickets, strikes, public

speeches and rallies. Recently in New Jersey, more than a thousand

community activists rallied to draft a "human" budget that puts the

needs of the poor and handicapped as a top priority. Rallies are an

effective means for people to use their freedoms effectively to bring

about change from the government.

Freedom of speech is coneztly being challenged as is

evidenced in a recent court case where a Gloucester County school

district censored reviews of two R-rated movies from a school

newspaper. Superior Court Judge, Robert E. Francis ruled that the

student's rights were violated under the state Constitution. I feel

this is a major break through for students' rights because it limits

editorial control of school newspapers by educators and allows

students to print what they feel is important.

A newly proposed bill (A-557) would prevent school officials

from controlling the content of student publications. Critics of the

bill feel that "student journalists may be too young to underezd the

responsibilities that come with free speech." This is a valid point;

however, it would provide an excellent opportunity for them to learn

about their First Amendment rights that guarantees free speech and

freedom of the press.

In his commencement address to Monmouth College graduates,

Professor Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School defended the broad

right to free speech. He stated, "My message to you graduates is to

assert your rights, to use them responsibly and boldly, to oppose

racism, to oppose sexism, to oppose homophobia and bigotry of all

kinds and to do so within the spirit of the First Amendment, not by

creating an exception to it." I agree that one should feel free to

speak openly as long as it does not directly or indirectly lead to the

harm of others.

One of the more controversial issues was the recent 2 Live

Crew incident involving obscenity in rap music. Their record, "As

Nasty as They Wanna Be," was ruled obscene in federal