Freedom of Speech vs. Freedom of Action: What the First Amendment Actually Means

So, as student of history and hence a student of the US Constitution, one of the things that literally makes me hate the education that children are receiving and truly believe that people have lost the ability to synthesize information is the defense of a stupid or hateful comment with the first amendment of the Bill of Rights.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or 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.” – See more at: http://constitution.findlaw.com/amendment1.html#sthash.gkVkgFxQ.dpuf

IMG_0023The first amendment is by far the most far reaching amendment and the most widely incorrectly cited. You can’t just say something awful and say “It’s free speech.” when someone tells you you’re being a moron. Free speech does not actually mean that you can say whatever you want without consequence. It means you have the right to say it, but it does not excuse you from the repercussions of that statement. For instance, the first amendment does not entitle you to say something racist at work and not be fired for it. Your employer has the right to fire you for slander of either the person you said it about or the company itself.

The first amendment also protects the rights of the press. Journalists who report the truth. The “press” should not really encompass the people who are ruining the lives of actors and artists for their own public gain. Just because the story makes money for your magazine, doesn’t mean it should be published. Do you think the founding fathers of America believed that the internet would be a thing when they were sitting in Independence Hall screaming at one another in the hot Philadelphia summer? Do you think they felt that it was necessary to ask themselves “How does this right work IMG_1819for the press when they want to slander the lives of famous people?” NO! BECAUSE NO ONE CARED! They, unlike people of today, realized that artists, politicians, and “famous” people are…people, fellow human beings. I’m not saying that people in the public eye should not be held accountable for their actions. EVERYONE SHOULD BE! AND IT’S NOT HAPPENING! Rights from the Constitution and its amendments can be employed in as much as they do not infringe upon the rights of others. I would say publishing nude photos of actresses because you hacked into their computer (whether in the cloud or otherwise) is infringing on their right to the pursuit of happiness, their right to privacy and is theft of their private property. I realize that the internet has truly changed the world and questions the rules in play. Just as I have the right to write this blog, someone has the right to say that I’m wrong if they think I am. We have the right to have the discussion but if that discussion leads to illegal action, that’s where we run into a serious problem.

I think the internet and social media have blurred the line between freedom of speech and freedom of action (which is not a fundamental right, you cannot simply do whatever you want, that would lead to anarchy and things like the Purge…tread carefully). Continuing with the use of the nude photo leak example, if you went to someone’s house and stole nude photos of them and published them in a magazine, that’s not freedom of the press, that’s theft and that journalist would be arrested for stealing and trespassing onto private property. So…what’s the difference between that and committing the same crime digitally. Just because it’s there and you want it, does not entitle you to take it. And with free speech, just because you think it doesn’t mean you should say it. You can, that’s a right provided to you by the government, AND ONLY THE GOVERNMENT, but it doesn’t protect you from the response and reactions of others.

IMG_1810I think this age of individualism is actually really dangerous and the internet has given us a mask to hide behind, our keyboards. You can do a lot of damage from behind those keyboards. You can spread hate and that’s not the intent of the right to free speech. The right to free speech should be used for good and to protect yourself and your ideas. Also, remember that private entities, not owned by the government, do actually have the ability to restrict what you say. For example, if you are found out to be sending hate mail on a website like tumblr, youtube, Facebook and twitter, your account can be deleted and you will be reported. We seem to have, as a culture, lost the ability to care about the greater good and are only out for the private good and not the public good. This is VERY BAD! While there are amazing organizations that are doing the right thing and joining together to promote the public good, there are a lot of stupid people who are only looking out for the interests of themselves as individuals. Where is that going to lead us?! It’s going to lead us down a seriously dangerous path and we will lose the collaborative spirit that made this country amazing in it’s early years. Look back in history, amazing things happen when people come together for the good of the public and sometimes that means sacrificing a small private want in order to accomplish something much more amazing.

Think before you open your mouth to speak or hit the keys on your keyboard, take five seconds to make sure that you are saying something worth saying. Don’t just speak to speak, say something with purpose. Say something educated and intelligent. Make sure you aren’t saying something inaccurate and stupid. Sometimes ranting in cathartic, sometimes it’s dangerous and inaccurate driven only by misunderstanding, hatred and anger. Just something to think about…keep sifting through shelves.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s