Tag Archives: Government

Does a bomb threat violate the protections of the First Amendment?

There have been countless examples of bomb threats in airports or other public places around the United States. Now, we must ask ourselves if saying “bomb” or using bomb threats in a public place violates the clear and present danger action set in place with the First Amendment. Our government considers this to be a violation of free speech because these words are used to pose potential danger and also to threaten national security especially to people in a public place like a mall or more commonly in an airport. For example, Dunedin airport in Florida had to be evacuated on December 8th, 2011 because a written bomb threat was found on a note in a women’s bathroom. The police took care of the situation, and they evacuated the passengers from the plane and airport in order for searching to be done. Here’s another example involving a bomb threat in a note. More publicly, Trevor Davis, a wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers, was arrested for falsely claiming that he was carrying explosives in his luggage to an airline employee at the Los Angeles International Airport. Even though these claims are almost always made on false pretenses, they are taken very seriously by local and federal securities. To note, there was also a court case in St. Paul, Minnesota where Dana Williams Ashey pleaded guilty on July 19th, 2013 for making verbal bomb threats at both the Mall of America and the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. As you can see, law enforcement handles these incidents seriously by initially evacuating the people in potential harm, and then prosecuting the person who made the threats.

In my opinion, a bomb threat does violate the First Amendment through the clear and present danger action. These types of threats can be a small act of terrorism within our country and endanger innocent people. I think there should rightfully be a legal punishment for saying or writing false bomb threats in public places especially airports and malls because it then becomes a security issue. In summary, saying “bomb” in a public venue is definitely a limit of our freedom of speech in the United States.

Works Cited:

“Bomb Scare Closes Airport.” Timaru Herald, The, 8 Dec. 2011, p. 03. EBSCOhost.

“Man Pleads Guilty To Making Bomb Threats At Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport And MOA.”
Justice.Gov, 2015.

“Trevor Davis, Green Bay Packers Receiver, Accused Of Making False Bomb Threat.” Cbsnews.Com,
2019.

 

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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.

References

“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.

Should Flag Burning be Protected by the First Amendment?

Flag burning or otherwise known as flag desecration is a term applied to the desecration/defacing of flags. These are acts that purposely destroy or damage a flag in public. In the case of burning a national flag, usually, this action is intended to make a political statement against a country, national leaders, or policies. Burning or defacing a flag is a crime in some countries, but not in others. In countries where this is not illegal, the act may still be prosecuted for things like disorderly conduct, arson, or vandalism.

Many people often question, should flag burning be protected by the First Amendment? This question was challenged in 1984 when Gregory Lee Johnson protested outside of the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, Texas. During these protests, Johnson participated in the burning of a United States flag. Bystanders were outraged and appalled. They claimed that this was an act of terrorism and it was unpatriotic.

Johnson was arrested and charged with violating a Texas law which prohibits vandalizing respected objects. Johnson was sentenced to one year in prison, and fined $2,000. Gregory Johnson then appealed his conviction to the Court of Appeals of Texas, but he lost this appeal. The declined appeal was later overturned when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said that the State could not punish Johnson for burning the flag because the First Amendment protects such activity as a form of symbolic speech. The Court then considered the question of whether the First Amendment protected non-speech acts. Since Johnson was convicted of flag desecration rather than verbal communication, and, if so, whether Johnson’s burning of the flag constituted expressive conduct/symbolic speech, which would allow him to use the First Amendment as a challenge point in his conviction.

A majority rule of 5-4 showed that the Court agreed with Johnson and stated that flag burning is a form of “symbolic speech” which is protected by the First Amendment. The majority stated, “freedom of speech protects actions that society might find offensive, but society’s outrage alone is not justification for suppressing free speech.”

I agree with the ruling of the Texas v. Johnson case. As long that the safety of others is not violated, I believe that as a part of the First Amendment all citizens deserve the advantage of free speech. Whether it is symbolic and nonverbal, or it is out loud and opinionated. Overall, burning/desecration of the flag should always be protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and symbolic speech rights.

Social Media is Free Speech

Social media is so popular these days and is so versatile it can be used so many different ways. There are many positive aspects to social media, but a major debate over social media has always been about where the first amendment fits into all of it. The big question that everyone is talking about is if the government should be able to regulate what is being said and posted on social media.
The first amendment states that “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.” To me, freedom of speech means that people have the right to say whatever they want whenever they want. Even though I believe lots of people choose to abuse this right and use it as a way to hurt people, it is still our rights as U.S. citizens to say whatever we want. Social media is just a part of this. The use of language can be more strong on social media because it is through a screen and not face to face. I think this is where most of the problems arise and where some people want social media to be regulated because lots of people share hateful and offensive thoughts online. Some people believe others should not have the right to say such horrible things online, and while I agree with that concept, I also acknowledge that the first amendment was created so people to speak their minds freely and have their opinions be heard. If the government were to regulate everything that was put on social media, it would cause people to become closed off and scared to share their views and opinions.
The U.S. is one country that grants its citizens the right to say whatever they want about whatever they want and I choose to look at that as a blessing instead of a curse. Despite the fact that some people abuse the first amendment and choose to use it as a weapon of hate instead of a way to heal and bring people joy and happiness, I do not believe that the government should be allowed to regulate everything put on social media. Social media is a creative output for so many people and a way for people to get their ideas heard. If the government is looking over everyone’s shoulder all the time, then they are taking away people’s voices because they will be too afraid to speak their minds.

Citations:

Karentay. “How Should Governments Regulate Facebook and Other Social Media Platforms? Proposing A New Paradigm to Regulation.” Technology and Public Good, 24 Oct. 2017, techandpublicgood.com/2017/10/24/how-should-governments-regulate-facebook-and-other-social-media-platforms-proposing-a-new-paradigm-to-regulation/.

“First Amendment – U.S. Constitution.” Findlaw, constitution.findlaw.com/amendment1.html.

Should Teams Be Able to Pray Before Games?

Essential Question: Should teams be allowed to pray together before games?

 

There has been a lot of controversy over the topic of the Freedom of Religion within the First Amendment.  Many are at war over whether teams should be allowed to pray before games or not. The problem sparked at Santa Fe High School around 1995 and was reassessed in 2015 and 2016 after a few more sport incidents.  The First Amendment may protect individual’s rights to freedom religion but when it comes to teams praying on a public school property, it is not protected.  This is because the government is not allowed to promote religion in any way.  How does this relate to a school sporting event you might ask.  Public schools are owned by the government.  If a public school were to teach about prayer, or allow teams to pray together before events, they could get in serious trouble because one may see this as promoting religion.  Individuals may take a moment of silence but they must practice their religion to themselves so they do not violate others rights.  Some may take The government regulates this closely so that no schools is deemed favored over another.  There have been several cases of this and no school has won due to the fact that the First Amendment does not protect them on this matter. 

Some may believe that this violates their Freedom of Exercise but it does not.  They are not banning you from your religious practices as an individual but they are protecting the rights of others and the laws that they have to follow.  If other’s rights are being violated then it can lead to serious conflicts between families of the school and would have to involve members of the school board.  If word got out of conflicts like this, it could hurt the school’s reputation or would cause even more arguments from people not involved in the situation.  For these many reasons, school athletic teams are not allowed to pray before games.

 

Works Cited:

Membership, ALCU. “Your Right to Religious Freedom.” American Civil Liberties Union, 2018, http://www.aclu.org/other/your-right-religious-freedom.

Carlson, Mr. David. “Establishment Clause.” LII / Legal Information Institute, 10 June 2009, http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/establishment_clause.

Ash, Elliott T. “Free Exercise Clause.” LII / Legal Information Institute, 4 May 2010, http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/free_exercise_clause.

Green, Lee. “Prayer, Religion-Related Activities at School Athletics Events.” NFHS, 13 Apr. 2016, http://www.nfhs.org/articles/prayer-religion-related-activities-at-school-athletics-events/.

Flag Burning: Symbolic or an Action that should be Torched

You might not think about it, but the 1st Amendment is much more than the right to practice the religion you choose, it is much more than the right to freedom of the press, and it is much more than the right to freedom of speech. It is all much deeper than just that. Within the freedom of speech, you not only have the right to express yourself verbally, but you also have the right to express your ideas through actions. That is symbolic speech. Like most limits of the 1st Amendment, the limits to symbolic speech are very blurred and not completely understood. This raises many questions, one being is burning the flag of the United States of America protected as symbolic speech under the 1st Amendment?

The simple answer to that question is yes, burning the US flag is protected under the 1st Amendment. While this controversy still exists today, it has been around for a while. This idea first came into question in 1984 in the Texas v. Johnson case. Gregory Johnson wanted to protest President Reagan and his policies at the Republican National Convention in Dallas, Texas. To do so, he burned a flag outside the convention center where it was being held and was arrested when bystanders felt offended by his actions. He was being charged for ¨violating a Texas statute that prevented the desecration of a venerated object, including the American flag, if such action were likely to incite anger in others¨. Johnson’s defense: his actions were protected under the 1st Amendment as symbolic speech. After a trial and an appeal, the case moved to the Supreme Court where they ruled 5-4 in favor of Johnson. Their reasoning, ¨The majority of the Court, according to Justice William Brennan, agreed with Johnson and held that flag burning constitutes a form of “symbolic speech” that is protected by the First Amendment. The majority noted that freedom of speech protects actions that society may find very offensive, but society’s outrage alone is not justification for suppressing free speech¨. This ruling only applied to Texas law, so the federal government decided to enact a law that prohibited all flag burning, ¨with the exception of burning and burying worn out flags¨. In the same 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court voted against this law, ending its enactment. Due to that, the guidelines from Texas v. Johnson are the ones that we follow today regarding symbolic speech, although they are occasionally challenged. When challenged, the prosecutor (often the government) must prove to a court that there is sufficient reason that the action in question should not be protected as symbolic speech. This reason cannot just be that the prosecutor disapproves of the action and finds it offensive.

While not all issues with the 1st Amendment are always crystal clear, the issue regarding flag burning seems like it is set in stone, burning the US flag is protected as symbolic speech under the 1st Amendment. While many may not like it, it offers one to voice their displeasure over problems regarding the state of our nation through actions, not just words.

Works Cited

Speech Codes: Are They a Scourge or a Savior to Free Speech?

Many people know the First Amendment: the right to expression, the right to peacefully assemble, freedom of the press, the right to petition the government, etcetera. However, not many people know where the boundaries of these rights lie. People push these boundaries all the time and right now college campuses are but one example. Administrators at colleges are attempting to enforce speech codes. Yet, does enforcing speech codes violate the right to free expression described in the First Amendment? How far can speech codes go before the contradict the rights to free expression and peaceful protesting described in the First Amendment?

There are many ways speech codes could be enforced. But depending on how they are applied, they could break the First Amendment. A few forms of expression, specifically in regards to free speech, that are not protected by the First Amendment are slander or libel, fighting words, and obscenity. This means that someone can not go in front of a crowd and defame, insult, threaten, or say anything that may be considered hate speech to someone without consequences. One example of hate speech can be seen in a video of Milo Yiannopoulous at UW Milwaukee. In this video, he verbally attacked and degraded a transgender student. They still were spoken with no point other than to make fun of a subject and way of life that Yiannopoulous did not agree with. Another example of hate speech and fighting words is threats. As stated by Ben Shapiro, some people “greeted the birth of [his] second child by calling for [him, his] wife, and two children to be thrown into a gas chamber”. There was no purpose to this statement other than to express a disagreement with his religion. Under the First Amendment, hate speech is not something you can say without consequences. Speech Codes cannot be used to prevent speakers with controversial opinions from speaking. They cannot prevent people from peacefully disagreeing and debating about topics. However, speech codes can apply consequences if that speech becomes hateful or slanderous since that speech would no longer be protected under the First Amendment.

Some Speech Codes are also attempting to limit the student’s right to peacefully protest a speaker. The First Amendment specifically says “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble”. To restrict the right to peacefully assemble is a direct violation of the First Amendment. Yet, as seen on the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education website, also known as FIRE, some college campuses are restricting the student’s rights to peacefully assemble and protest on the grounds that they are disrupting the speaker’s right to freedom of speech. Furthermore, the Wisconsin Campus Free Speech Act states that “protests and demonstrations that interfere with the expressive rights of others are subject to sanction”. There must be a line drawn as to what qualifies as disruptive and interfering demonstrations. The line is whether or not there is any form of violence or hate speech. If a protester simply said the speaker was wrong, held signs, and argued about right versus wrong, nothing can be done about it because they are protesting peacefully, as the First Amendment says they can. However, if a protestor started doing damage or cursing out the speaker, then they would have to face consequences. Recently at UC Berkeley, protesters became very violent at a speech by Yiannopoulous and had to be escorted off the premises. UC Berkeley encompasses what a protest that is not protected by the First Amendment is, and what Speech Codes can restrict.

In the end, Speech codes can be useful to make speeches more peaceful and clearly define punishments for breaking that peace, however, they must still subject to the First Amendment.

Sources:

EBSCO: The New Battle Over Campus Free Speech

Milo Yiannopoulos verbally attacks a transgender student (1:30-3:05)

The Atlantic: The Glaring Evidence That Free Speech Is Threatened on Campus

Wisconsin Campus Free Speech Act

A few examples of Hate Speech against Ben Shapiro

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE)

UC Berkeley