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The Overlooked Caveats of the 1st Amendment

Aicha Ly | Opinion Editor

“But, I am just exercising my right to free speech!” This is a phrase many Americans, if not all Americans, are familiar with. It is often used as a form of defense when someone is confronted for making a statement that is offensive or unpopular. This is especially apparent on social media, where keyboard warriors thrive as they jump the barriers of political correctness under the protective veil of anonymity. While freedom of speech is indeed a constitutional right reserved for Americans, there are some important, consistently overlooked points that I believe should be acknowledged.

First, freedom of speech is not the only part of the first amendment. It is the most well known and referenced, perhaps. But, other parts of it are freedom of religion, freedom to assembly, freedom of the press, and the right to petition. The first amendment is not designed to exclusively define the right to having freedom of speech. Rather, it is there to outline the freedoms each American is entitled to as a citizen of the United States when it comes to individual expression—which is a safeguard against tyranny. Second, there are exceptions to the right outlined in this amendment. Citizens have freedom of speech, but many areas ban residents from playing loud music at late hours in the night. Anyone can get arrested when reported to law enforcement for disturbing quiet hours--playing loud music, screaming swear words obnoxiously outside, etc. These can be argued as freedom of speech, since music expresses thoughts and opinions that may reflect our own beliefs and emotions and an individual screaming outside is saying whatever they want. However, these are situations that significantly disturb peace and can endanger others. Music played too loud can result in the sleep deprivation of residents, resulting in a lack of awareness and slower reaction times which can lead to injury—especially overtime. Maybe the individual screaming outside is threatening a resident.

Third, even if an individual is not actively disturbing peace like in the situations above, freedom of speech does not mean freedom from social consequences. People are legally allowed to say the n-word. While their ability to say something so offensive is protected in courtrooms, it does not protect them from criticism or backlash. Using freedom of speech as a form of defense in order to ward off backlash is ignorant. Finally, freedom of speech is a right for American citizens in the United States of America. It does not necessarily extend to Americans on foreign soil. An American who visits a different country is subject to the rules of that country because they are no longer under the jurisdiction of the United States according to international law. The first amendment is no longer a valid argument for defense when it comes to Americans being punished by authoritarian governments overseas for violating their laws through self expression or press. More people need to become educated on the true implications and exceptions of the first amendment in order to stop feeding into the “entitled American” stereotype. They must understand that this amendment, especially the freedom of speech aspect of it, does not translate to immunity for consequences of any sort anywhere. Once this happens, the United States will be a more well informed republic and thus a better republic.


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