“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.” -Bill of Rights
As Americans, and as students, the Bill of Rights is drilled into our minds as soon as we are able to read. We are told to memorize it, discuss it, write papers on it, and learn it. Our parents and teachers praise it, and teach us to do the same. No one ever really questions the Bill of Rights, especially not many community college students just trying to get through yet another semester. We’re lucky to have it, we tell ourselves, because many other countries don’t have these freedoms. I personally have no interest in the first amendment. It’s boring and I have other pressing matters to attend to. However, while trying to come up with a topic for this very open-ended assignment, I couldn’t help but wonder if these freedoms really are free, and it encouraged to question something that I’ve been taught my whole life.
Since this thought had the potential of leading me into hours of research and plenty of articles written about the limitations on our freedoms, I thought I’d just brush over some of the limitations on these freedoms that directly affect me, and maybe this paper could provoke someone else to form their own opinions and not just accept what we’ve been taught throughout our academic lives.
Freedom of speech; for the most part, we can say anything we want… in the comfort of our own homes. Our parents taught us what is appropriate to say and when it is appropriate to say those things. We control the way we speak in front of different people. I wouldn’t talk to someone interviewing me for a job the way I talk to my best friend. I’ve never really thought it could be against the law to say some things, though. It is illegal to use “fighting words” or use your words to promote violence against others. It is also illegal to use your voice to describe clear and present danger when there isn’t any. I wish they would have taught me that in school when out of anger I say I’m going to “kill” someone out of anger or humor.
Freedom of the press is something pretty important. Everyone has an opinion and I think we should value that even if we don’t agree with his or her opinion. It’s not fair to be flagged for buying a “questionable” book or have to follow obscenity rules* when writing. In fact, many of my favorite books were once banned by our government, including Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. It makes me wonder what books are currently banned that I would enjoy reading. There is now a website called wikileaks that has information the public should already have access too, and not have to be “leaked”. As American citizens we should have access to anything and everything we want; it’s our right.
Freedom of petition and freedom of assembly also have limitations. There are now anti-loitering laws that prevent you from assembling anywhere, anytime without someone’s permission. And noise laws that prevent the same; you can still be having a peaceful assembly even if you’re loud. This is called the TPM standard, which stands for time, place, and manner. I had police called on my house for a noise complaint while I had family over after my father’s funeral. It was the callers right to object to the noise, but I doubt they had considered the time place and manner of their complaint.
Our freedom of religion is not really free. Mormons can’t practice polygamy, or teach racism like they used to. An Islamic woman cannot be denied her equal rights as the religion calls for, and you can’t just deny your child medical care because your religion says so. There are few, if any, public houses of satanic worship, and if you want to start your own cult or religion, good luck.
There are many good reasons for these limitations and I’m happy we have most of them. I couldn’t imagine living without these societal rules that keep our country running smoothly (for the most part). But I still have to ask myself, why do we call these our freedoms, or rights? Why not look at them as privileges you gain by being an American citizen?
*Miller v. California “Miller Test” of obscenity:
Would the average person, applying the contemporary community standards, viewing the work as a whole, find the work appeals to the prurient interest? Does the work depict or describe sexual conduct in a patently offensive way? Does the work taken as a whole lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value?