Cummiskey’s Corner: The First Amendment

american-flag-background-29Nelson Cummiskey


The First Amendment is simply the freedom of expression. Doesn’t matter who it is, doesn’t matter where it is. A person can say whatever they want as long as it is not libel, slander, or inciting violence.

However, people are responsible for the things they say. If someone says something controversial, they must be aware that people may not agree with them, and that they have a right to say things that don’t fit into their personal bubble of opinion. For example, when Ben Shapiro scheduled a lecture at UC Berkeley and was uninvited by the university due to his controversial opinions, he threatened to take legal action if he was not able to speak. He was later allowed to do so after a fee of about $15,000 was paid by the Young Americans Foundation for “security”  — but Shapiro knew this was an infringement on his rights.

Free speech in America is being attacked. What is ironic is that free speech is what allows these attacks. The masses that go out and march against “hate speech” in the US are essentially challenging the government. They have the freedom to do this here. If one attempted to challenge the government in a place like Syria, people would not see as much of that speaker around town due to the fact that speaking against the government is a punishable offense.

In addition, many feel freedom of religion is being infringed upon if they are not able to express their views. When Christian bakery owners in Lakewood, Colorado was forced to defy their religious beliefs by baking a cake for a gay wedding, they felt they were not being allowed to freely express themselves. They said to not want to bake a cake for a gay couple is not hate speech; it is the belief of their religion. The bakers don’t necessarily hate this couple personally. The consequence of the refusal, however, became a legal gray area, because the customers who were denied the cake filed a lawsuit over discrimination: The irony again is that it was the two-way freedom of expression that sparked the issue. The bakery didn’t have to bake the cake, but then they may not have had as many customers. They were free to make the decision, but they also had to deal with the consequences.

There is a fine line, however, between freedom of expression and hate speech. The problem with freedom of expression is that people are allowed to hate people, such as groups like the KKK, that are allowed to spread hate, but ironically, it is this freedom of expression that can lead to infringement on others’ freedom. The problem with that is when you say, “no one can say racist things,” then you must define the term ‘racist,’ which could be interpreted many different ways. The problem is, when people try to limit speech due to assumptions, any limitations may take place. No matter how ridiculous or crazy the speech may be, once limiting speech starts, it could just keep snowballing. This is the paradox we face with the right to free speech.

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