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