The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states, “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.” Does this mean that freedom of speech cannot be prohibited in any way? Are there any reasonable arguments for limiting speech? In this paper, these questions will be examined along with a discussion of where the basic right of free speech originated. Today, society or government can attempt to regulate speech, but it cannot prevent it if a person is within the parameters of his or her constitutional rights.
For centuries, civilizations have struggled on deciding what is morality acceptable speech and trying to place restrictions on what is considered inappropriate material. The U.S. is no exception in facing this type of dilemma. In the book, Civil Rights and Liberties in the 21st Century, author John C. Domino details several issues concerning the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of expression. Domino’s first point is related to subversive political speech, which is in reference to the clear and present danger doctrine. The doctrine came about from a Supreme Court ruling, Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919), that established a test to permit governmental restrictions on political expression (Domino 30-31). Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the test of four conditions that must be met in order to restrict an individual’s freedom of speech; they are intent of the person, the gravity of evil, proximity of danger, and the circumstances surrounding the words (33). Therefore, there is often opposition between an individual’s right of expression and the right of government to protect itself and the rest of society.
The second point by Domino concerning freedom of expression was the issue of symbolic and offensive speech. The conduct of this type of speech does not necessarily involve oral or written communication of a political nature or a particular set of ideas (48). Domino contends that, “Constitutional rights are possible only when there is some means of promoting and enforcing the obligations of others to respect our right” (50). Furthermore, in relationship to offensive speech are Domino’s third and fourth points of racist speech and hate speech, which often produce a negative or a violent reaction in people (66). The Supreme Court has said, “The First Amendment permits the government to prohibit offensive speech as intrusive when the ‘captive’ audience cannot avoid the objectionable speech…” (72). In other words, a person simply wanting to do or say whatever they want is not necessarily permitted if it becomes an infringement upon someone else’s personal rights.
Domino’s last point is certainly the most controversial topic associated with freedom of expression. With the issue of competing...