Precious Williams | RADIO
Senior, Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt MD
The Bill of Rights is one of the most beneficial documents for the people of the U.S. as a democracy. The first amendment, freedom of speech, of the press, peaceful assembles, and religion gives people the impression that they have a wide range of freedom. Freedom of speech and protest are protected by the Constitution; however, obscene speech and destruction of property are not within that right. The Tea Party and other political groups were outraged about the recent health care reform President Obama and Congress passed and protested about it along with vandalizing property and slandering members of Congress. Their actions were not within their margins of the Bill of Rights as part as the Constitution, therefore they went too far with their actions.
Although the First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, expression, peaceful assembles, religion, and press there are many restrictions and guidelines the people and the court need to follow. The First Amendment is known as the “fabric that weaves through all our liberties.”1 But like many other enlightened citizens, I stand by the quote, “No serious scholar really believes that the free speech principle, or the First Amendment, is an absolute.”2 There are different ranges of speech, and the Bill of Rights and the Supreme Court help better determine what we as people are restricted on within that freedom. The courts have shown through their rulings many times that limits on the First Amendment are applicable. For example, in 1942 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state in the Chaplinsky vs. New Hampshire stating “fighting words’- words that immediately lead to a breach of peace-are not protected free speech.”3 The ‘fighting words’ to the police were illegal because they pose a threat to the peace keeping. Slander, libel, threats, and criminal solicitation are also not protected by the First Amendment because they prose threats to peace. In the case of the recent health-care passing, protestors were not peaceful because they have belittled Congress members with slander and they vandalized their homes and other properties. Their protesting has gone further than the First Amendment can protect them so they should be tried and charged for their crimes. Their words and name-calling were obscene; the Constitution protects indecent speech, but obscene speech is out the protection of the Constitution. In 1919, the Supreme Court ruled that all speech is not protected by the First Amendment, especially speech that creates a “clear and present danger,” in the Schenk vs. U.S. case and that obscene speech was not protected by the First Amendment in the Roth vs. U.S. case in 1957. Having several cases to prove it, the judicial courts stand strong in there limitations and what they protect within the First Amendment.
The courts also have limits to assembly. In the 1980’s Pruneyard Shopping Center vs. Robins case, the court decided the Constitution does not give people the right to enter or remain on private property, especially for free expression. However, “publicly owned streets, sidewalks, and parks… for purposes of exercising such rights cannot be denied absolutely.”4 So the courts came up with zones where they are restricted areas close to the people or property the protestors were speaking about. If protesters step outside the boundaries they can be arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. These peaceful protest crimes are punishable by law, so violent protest should have greater charges. In the Tea Party healthcare legislation protest, they vandalized the property of members of Congress, which is a form of protest not protected under the Constitution. Therefore, the Tea Party protests were going too far on both counts for obscene speech and destruction of property. Neither shows protection within the Constitution. “The First Amendment allows you to do things, but it doesn’t make it right,”5 meaning the Constitution allow free speech and assemble, but there are limits. In the case of the Tea Party protests, the protesters went well and above the protected rights guaranteed by the Constitution and judicial courts.
The evidence of the Tea Party protesters crime is clearly written in the Bill of Rights as part of the Constitution. The actions the protesters took were illegal, they should be punished, and the members of Congress should be granted extra protection. Although I do believe the members of Congress should respond with a counter speech. The alternative as counter speech “is better to respond to bigotry than to let hateful views hide underground.”6 Establishing that there are some limits to our freedoms and the Tea Party crossed those limitations, they should be tried and the members of Congress should be safe and protected.
- Egendorf, Laura. Free Speech. San Diego, CA: Reference Point Press, 2008. 103. Print.
- Graham, Amy. A Look at the Bill of Rights: Protecting the Rights of Americans. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow Publishers, Inc., 2008. 128. Print.
- Varied, Should There Be Limits to Free Speech? Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press, 2003. 95. Print.