Tag Archives: freedom of expression

Obscene Obscenity: Where Art Ends and Pornography Begins

American rights included within the First Amendment encompass “freedom of speech,” but the waters can become mucky when the government enforces limitations on those freedoms. In fact, “the debate over what constitutes as inappropriate material and whether (and how) the public should be protected from it will not likely be settled any time soon” (The Atlantic). The essential question for today’s blog post is should our government place limitations on obscenity under the first amendment?

To explore this essential question deeper, we need to dive into the history of obscenity in the United States. Since the founding of the United States, disputes have regularly occurred rooted in the basis of what is considered decency; thus, law enforcement began to step in. Government interference among obscenity issues can be traced back as far as the 1873 Comstock Act which limited freedom of speech by banning the mailing of “obscene,” “lewd,” or “lascivious” material, including sex education materials (TIME). As the years progressed, the government became more permissive of freedom of speech. For instance, in 1931, Stromberg v. California concluded that “symbolic speech” is protected under the First Amendment. At the time, Stromberg’s waving of a red flag out a public plane window was considered to be affiliated with anarchy and was then unlawful under California law. However, this display of symbolic speech was later deemed lawful. That same legal symbol expression allowance extends to the arts such as paintings, music, theatrical performances, and other artistic expressions. Nevertheless, later on, the United States continued to limit obscene speech. In the case Roth v. United States, obscene speech was outlawed yet again (PBS). Further, obscene material was defined as “utterly without redeeming social importance” (TIME). Later on, the case Miller v. California created a more specific system for determining obscene material. The case defined obscenity as any matter that “lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value” and “taken as a whole, appeals to prurient interests” (TIME). This test is what is known as the three-pronged test, and remains in use still today (PBS).

Currently, under the First Amendment, our freedom of Speech allows for only consented obscenity that serves a purpose (meets the three-pronged test) and does not present a disruption in certain social settings. However, since the First Amendment permits freedom of speech, and the government later synthesized that with freedom of expression, those same rights ought to be available to be exercised by the people in whatever setting they so choose. For instance, art is art when the artist affirms it to be, not when the audience says otherwise. One of the first videos said to be banned was the video entitled “Carmencita,” banned in the 1890s due to the way the female dancer occasionally pulls at her skirt and reveals her ankles (TIME). However, a little over a century later viral videos include that such as Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball” music video, that visually shows a bit more than an ankle. No one is forcing you to watch “Wrecking Ball” any more than they weren’t forcing you to watch “Carmencita.” In fact, if something is on display that displeases you, as an American citizen you should be able to respect that display since constitutionally people have the right to expression. Governments limitations on speech and expression of any kind, including obscenity, is wrong. Freedom of speech is a part of our government, a right and privilege not everyone has around the world. If you don’t appreciate that right, you can move to Saudi Arabia where women just received the right to drive in 2017. Or perhaps to North Korea, where the only expression allowed is one of respect for their leader, Kim Jong-Un. Similar to artwork, the scientific value in expression equally includes liberty in knowledge available to an educational setting. Even though in 1966 the Fanny Hill decision liberated the literary world because it decided it was “no longer impermissible to write about sex or to employ certain words” (The Atlantic), as late as 1982 court decisions were still being made to liberate school resources. The case Board of Education v. Pico determined that “local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books” (PBS). Art, information, science, expression, these are the things that shape ideas and build the America of tomorrow. We deserve rights. In fact, we are guaranteed rights, unsolicited rights, under the First Amendment of the Constitution. Today is the day that government starts obeying our call for rights, our call for freedom of speech, and we cannot afford to live as bystanders in our own lives for even a second longer.


“Culture Shock: Who Decides? How And Why?: The First Amendment”. Pbs.Org, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/cultureshock/whodecides/firstamendment.html. Accessed 21 Feb 2019.

Kessler, Ryder. “Obscenity, Censorship, And The First Amendment”. The Atlantic, 2006, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2006/07/obscenity-censorship-and-the-first-amendment/305073/. Accessed 21 Feb 2019.

Waxman, Olivia. This Is What Americans Used To Consider Obscene. 2016, http://time.com/4373765/history-obscenity-united-states-films-miller-ulysses-roth/. Accessed 21 Feb 2019.


To what point is satire protected by the 1st Amendment?

The 1st Amendment is the protection of free speech, expression, religion, and press. Satire falls under the 1st Amendment. Satire is the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose or criticize people or ideas. Satire throughout the United States history has been used. Many news organizations have profited from satire, one such organization is The Onion. While most satire is lawful, sometimes people or organizations are taken to court. One example is Hustler v. Falwell. This case takes us back to 1983 when Jerry Falwell, a reverend who pushed his political-religious policies, sued Hustler Magazine. Within the magazine contained a political ad depicting Falwell and his first sexual experience. It depicted him with his mother, he was very drunk, and he was in an outhouse in Virginia. Falwell sued the Magazine for libel. The court awarded Falwell $150,000. This was the first major case involving satire in the United States and was the basis for many other cases to come.

I think that this played out exactly as it should have. The magazine used its power to try and destroy the image of the reverend. The magazine also did not make it clear that this was a joke and to not take it seriously, even though most people with common sense would think it was a joke. While I do not really care about the cartoon itself, I do not like the fact that this was used to hurt the reverend’s image. Satire should be used in a comedic form, not a predatory way to hurt people and their reputation.   

When in doubt, Throw the Confederate Flag Out.

It doesn’t come as a shock that your wardrobe says a lot about you. People should be able to express themselves with their clothing, but should they be able to wear something that offends a great number of people? What you wear is protected by the First Amendment-freedom of expression; therefore you should be able to wear anything you want. But, what if someone walked into school wearing the Confederate flag? The Confederate Flag that split our nation into two and caused a civil war over a simple problem, slavery. Should that still be covered under the First Amendment? Schools all over the nation are setting aside the First Amendment and handing out suspensions for those who break the dress code. A lot of these schools believe wearing the Confederate Flag is considered “inappropriate apparel” for school. For example, Christiansburg High School suspended 20 students in 2015 after holding a rally in the school parking lot while wearing clothing items with Confederate images. The high school’s dress code clearly “prohibits students from wearing articles that reflect adversely on people because of race, gender, or other factors.” This policy also goes for their parking lot. Any sign of inappropriate clothing, even clothing with the Confederate Flag, will automatically lead to suspension. Is that fair? Arguments have centered around then the meaning on why people wear the Confederate Flag. Many say they wear the flag to show off their Southern heritage and not to promote racism. Others wear the flag because it is a part of our history that we cannot change, but only a select few truly know the meaning of the stars and bars and wear the flag intentionally with pride. Often with these arguments, the First Amendment is brought up, stating they have the right to freedom of expression, meaning they can wear what they want to wear. They also bring up court case, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. This court case took place in 1965, when a couple of students decided to wear black armbands to school to show their support for a truce in the Vietnam war. Their school had the policy stated, “Any student wearing an armband would be asked to remove it, with refusal to do so resulting in suspension.” The students’ parents ended up suing the school district, as they violated the students’ right of expression, which is under the First Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court ended up ruling that students “do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate”. But how are students supposed to feel safe when fellow classmates are flaunting the flag off at school? Since wearing the Confederate Flag is a form of expression, should the First Amendment still protect this even though it offends thousands of people?

I firmly believe that wearing the Confederate Flag creates fear and tension within schools. LaTarndra Strong, a black mother, was dropping her children off at school when she saw the Confederate Flag roll into the school parking lot. Her heart and mind began to race and thought about students of color may feel. Follow the link to learn more on Strong’s movement. The fact is, wearing the Confederate Flag in school, creates disruptions in a normal school routine. The Superintendent of Pennsylvania’s Plum Borough School District, Timothy Glasspool, stated:

“Public school districts cannot restrict students’ speech, except when actual, material and substantial interference with school operation occurs.”

Timothy Glasspool, Superintendent of Pennsylvania’s Plum Borough School District

He stated that this expression was “unlawful harassment” and compared it to the swastika. In order for all schools to function smoothly and create a safe and tolerable environment, the Confederate Flag should be banned in schools. Everyone should feel safe in their educational environment, and with the flag present that is not possible.

Works Cited

“Confederate Flag-Themed Clothing Sparks Backlash, Student Ejections At Pa. …: Ebscohost .” Web.b.ebscohost.com. N. p., 2019. Web. 21 Feb. 2019.

Glum, Julia. “Can You Wear a Confederate Flag to School? Depends Where You Are.” Newsweek, 21 Aug. 2017, www.newsweek.com/confederate-flag-dress-code-charlottesville-651940.

“High School Students Facing Consequences After Wearing Confederate Flag Att…: Ebscohost .” Web.b.ebscohost.com. N. p., 2019. Web. 21 Feb. 2019.

“Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District.” Oyez, www.oyez.org/cases/1968/21.

“20 Virginia Students Suspended For Wearing Confederate Flag Clothing: Ebscohost .” Web.b.ebscohost.com. N. p., 2019. Web. 21 Feb. 2019.

When drug use is accepted through the first amendment

Drug use has been a controversial topic for many people to discuss whether it should be legal or not. This is when the idea of drug use during religious ceremonies becomes a bit of confusion. According to the first amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise”. This means that according to our own US amendments that affect or disrupt religious exercise. That is why there is the question, should drug use be allowed in religious expression? A religious Brazilian belief is called the UDV faith. This faith believes that hoasca is a sacred tea used to connect with God. The problem with this tea is that hoasca is a hallucinogenic drug. In 1999 federal agents in Santa Fe stopped a shipment of hoasca that was imported from Brazil that was meant to be used for UDV religious ceremonies. Then in 1993, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act exempted the use of hoasca. This allowed individuals in the UDV faith to freely practice their religion using the drugs.

Due to the first amendment giving rights to religious believers, then individuals who use drugs in their free exercise should not be taken away from them. If individuals would like to use certain drugs to incorporate in their religion, then under the first amendment this should be protected. Recreational drug use compared to religious rituals is where these two uses have boundaries. The government should not have the right to take away free expression through religion no matter if they are using drugs or not.

Breaking the American Way

What would you do if you witnessed a person protest a professional’s work right outside the workplace?  Laura Laursen receives this treatment on her way to work in southern Illinois. She mentally prepares because she knows people will hate on her job… performing abortions.  Newsweek.com quotes her saying “I’ve gotten used to it by now… but if I were any other kind of physician, this kind of violence and harassment would not be apart of my daily job…”.  There are multiple protesters outside the clinic. In response the town has created “buffer zones”. The zones create a “bubble” around the the clinic that the protesters must be outside of.  Is this the American way?
The part of the first amendment that we are looking at reads “Congress shall make no law… prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble…”.  The buffer zones should not be allowed according to the constitution. Buffer zones prohibits the protesters practice their right of expression. Some people argue that the protesters are harassing the doctor, and they should be given barriers due to that.  However, harassing is illegal only if it is based on a person’s age, race, national origin, sex, religion, or disability. The law does not protect citizens from receiving hate for the person’s profession. The city must repeal the buffer zone, and Laura Laursen will be receiving harassment from protesters.  It is the American way.



“First Amendment.” LII / Legal Information Institute, 2010, https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/first_amendment.
Oclaborlaw.Com, 2018, http://www.oclaborlaw.com/labor5.pdf.
Solis, Marie. “Abortion Clinics Experiencing Surge in Death Threats, Harassment under Trump, Study Finds.” Newsweek, 9 May 2018, http://www.newsweek.com/abortion-clinics-death-threats-harassment-916184.

Offensive Speech in Universities

When can universities censor students without violating free speech and the First Amendment?

Universities have always had a set of standards separate from the outside world. What might be acceptable on the streets could land a student in Dean of Students’ office. For example, flipping another driver off as he/she cuts you off does not have any repercussions and is actually seen quite often. On the other hand, a student giving their teacher the bird for not bumping their grade up will almost certainly result in consequences. Universities are allowed to do this without violating freedom of expression because they have a different set of community standards. Classrooms are a place for education and not much else, so something offensive that lies outside of this realm could be considered an obscenity. If it is preventing students from successfully learning, then the phrase or expression is obscene. The outside world does that not have this standard because it is solely devoted to learning. However, lately universities all around the country have been censoring a little too much.

A study done by Spiked Magazine released a ranking for schools in the UK highlighting which universities censored free speech the most. The report revealed that a majority of schools has “banned and actively censored” students’ free speech. In addition, Tom Slater, an editor for Spiked Magazine, revealed what some of the schools are banning. One school, he said, “Banned sombreros, and other such ‘racist’ attire”. Even groups centered around controversial debates such as abortion have been banned on campus, and students are upset. Many feel as though their freedom of speech has been violated by their universities. Although some opinions and words might be offensive, a lot of what universities censor can be used as an educational opportunity. One said that he is a “firm believer that the best way to challenge an idea is to discuss”. Universities are a place to learn not censor.

Although certain actions or words do need to be censored in the classroom, universities should not be censoring anything that seems mildly offensive. As long as it does not prevent students from learning successfully, it should not be banned. Just because something is offensive, does not mean it can not be discussed professionally and educationally. By toning down the amount of censorship, students might even be able to understand each other more effectively and create better environments within the school.

Works Cited:

“The suppression of free speech on university campuses is reaching epidemic levels; It’s easy to laugh at students who try to ban sombreros or applause, but new free speech rankings show how their censorious megalomania is getting out of hand.” Telegraph Online, 3 Feb. 2015. Student Resources in Context, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A400023226/SUIC?u=mono131514&xid=48fd105e. Accessed 14 Feb. 2018.

“‘Why I’m no longer looking forward to university’; Supression of free speech has transformed universities into a much less exciting prospect for sixth form students, writes Carl du Jeu.” Telegraph Online, 24 July 2015. Student Resources in Context, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A423008194/SUIC?u=mono131514&xid=ee9f24f6. Accessed 14 Feb. 2018.


Limited Money?

Should there be a limit or regulation on how much an individual can donate towards a political candidate? There are many reasons why or why not to go along with this because it is right on the border of being an issue with freedom of expression or not. I believe that money can be considered a form of free expression and that there should be a limit on how much one person can spend on one candidate. If there is no limit, the political candidates that have multiple connections to people of great wealth will definitely have a very high advantage and that is unfair to the candidates that don’t have those types of connections. It is simply unfair if one candidate has more wealthy people on their side where they can simply pull a million dollars out of their pocket and give them a huge advantage over the other candidate. Having a limit will definitely make the campaigns more fair for everyone because it will actually matter about how many people are with the candidate and not just how many wealthy people are with that candidate. Another thing it would help is the amount being spent on campaigns. It is at a very high rate right now and the limits would help keep the spending amounts lower. In conclusion, there should definitely be a limit to the amount an individual can donate towards a political candidate.

Speak Outs – Should there be a limit on campaign donations from individuals?

Speak Outs – Should there be a limit on campaign donations from individuals?. (2018). Annenberg Classroom. Retrieved 20 February 2018, from http://www.annenbergclassroom.org/speakout/should-there-be-a-limit-on-campaign-donations-from-individuals

Why Campaign Contribution Limits Matter | BillMoyers.com

Why Campaign Contribution Limits Matter | BillMoyers.com. (2013). BillMoyers.com. Retrieved 20 February 2018, from http://billmoyers.com/2013/09/19/why-campaign-contribution-limits-matter/