United States of American: Personal Freedom


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 constantly 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 understand 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 court. They were acquitted of the charges and
quickly became a free speech martyr. Although many stores pulled the album,
over two million copies sold as a result of the incident. I feel that in this
case the principles of free speech have been abused because young children can
purchase and listen to this obscene music.
The American flag, symbol of our country's history and patriotism,