Editorial: Speaking Freely…

Americans love their freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. We value the right to student writing paper speak what is on our minds and to make our opinions heard.

We consider this right inherent to citizenship in our country.

Sadly, as we celebrate Free Speech Week nationally on October 21-27, 2013, many Americans will underestimate, misinterpret and downright ignore this important article for freedom.

Pew’s Research Center, self-labeled as a non-partisan fact tank, conducts surveys of public opinions for many issues that have broad social impacts.

Their surveys include summaries of First Amendment data gained from public polling. One conclusion from a 2006 survey made headlines as it uncovered Americans’  lack of knowledge about their personal freedom.

The survey asked Americans to name the five freedoms guaranteed under the First Amendment. This seems like a straightforward question since the first amendment is widely cited by Americans as a protection from almost everything, from government intrusion and censorship to the right to wear tattoos .

The results showed that out of 1,000 people polled during a phone survey; only one person could name all of the five rights found in the first amendment. Of those same respondents, nearly 22 percent were able to name all five characters on The Simpsons, a cartoon television, which is a parody of the American family. The survey also found that many of the Americans polled believed that the right to own a pet  was part of the First Amendment freedoms.

More recently, court rulings determined that one of the rights found under the First Amendment-the right to free speech-also applies to social media usage. Facebook “likes” and Tweets are protected as substantive speech and are considered valuable forums for opinions and ideas.

Even sidewalk chalk  can qualify as a medium for free speech, as one activist’s arrest and subsequent court hearing proved.

Pew’s conclusion that Americans know more about television shows than their personal freedoms and rights protected under the constitution, combined with the growing number of newly protected forms of speech, should make us all question our responsibilities towards our personal freedoms.

As we express ourselves through new technologies such as social media, we are able to make instantly known our thoughts and opinions.

How many of us understand the laws governing such expressions and are we aware of the protections afforded to us by our Constitution?

A popular slogan used to justify war applies to issues of personal rights, as well. “Freedom is not free” implies that someone else fights for the rights that we all enjoy and that we should be grateful for their efforts.

To guarantee that the First Amendment continues to afford us its generous protections we must act responsibly, and know our rights as well as we know our favorite television show.

by Lesley Eichelberger

Editor-in-Chief, The Wilson Billboard


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