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Stretching or protecting the First Amendment?

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Free speech has always been a fundamental aspect of what it is to be an American. It is a clear right for everyone in the nation to have, but recent events are calling the extent of this right to question. Beginning with the outbreak of violence at the “Unite the Right” march at Charlottesville, the stretches of the First Amendment are now a hot topic for debate.

For those who do not know, the “Unite the Right” rally consisted of white supremacists, neo-Confederates, white nationalists, and neo-Nazis who gathered to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia. Some marchers came bearing semi-automatic rifles. By the end of the day, Heather Heyer was killed by a man who purposely drove his car into a group of counter protesters. Nineteen others were injured.

Far-right extremists asserted that their actions and words, though considered “hate speech” by many liberal-minded thinkers, is still protected by the First Amendment. Liberals called for the hate speech to stop or be shut down. Mr. Garrett Wilcox, deputy city attorney of Midvale, Utah, and former Charger, said, “Personally, I don’t agree with hate speech. But, from a legal standpoint, it should still be protected.”

What the government can prevent are incidents like the Charlottesville rally. He said that if the group is implicitly trying to insight violence, their “speech” is no longer protected by law. He mentioned some of the Unite the Right marchers prepared for violence, and he said, “When you show up looking the part, wearing helmets, shields, bats, and weapons, it shows what you were intending to do. That is not free speech. That is violent, illegal and inappropriate behavior.”

The events at Charlottesville and the similar ones that followed sparked outrage on all sides. Some, like President Trump, said that there was blame and on both sides. Others, like Miss Texas Margana Wood of the 2018 Miss America pageant, said, “It was very obvious that it was a terrorist attack.”

In Berkeley, immense security measures are underway in case of conflict at a conservative writer’s talk scheduled for next week. The campus has become a common venue for right and left-wing activists to confront each other. The “Free Speech Week” event is sparking controversy about allowing certain speakers to come despite the fear of a violent outcome. One side argues that common welfare is put at risk, while the other argues that this fear should not lead to the silencing of any speaker.

The issue behind this conflict lies within the varying definitions of what free speech means to different people. For Sela Pastrana, senior, it is “the right for individuals to speak their beliefs and opinions.” According to her, the right should be used carefully and treated with respect. Like Miss Texas, she was outraged:  “I fear for our country because the leader of the free world is giving this hateful group of protesters power that they do not deserve. Their actions are unacceptable and should not be supported whatsoever. They stand as a symbol of hatred and disapproval of universal equality.”

According to Mrs. Bonnie Shockey, English teacher, “Freedom of speech means that if you’ve given care and thought to what you have to say, and you feel strongly that it must be said, the government should give you the freedom to say that thing, because censorship is wrong. However, I believe people take freedom of speech to also include freedom to hurt, and that’s where I draw the line.” To her, the right to free speech is a complicated topic, especially since many people tend to ignore the possibility of consequences in the aftermath of speaking out. “Choosing to speak also means choosing to listen, and choosing to know that if you start a fire with your speech, you are obligated to see through what happens after you say it,” she said.

The debate continues nationwide as bitterness grows on all sides. However, regardless of what any single person’s definition of what free speech is, there is one thing for certain: violence is not protected by law. It is not considered speech. It is not freedom of expression. It is unlawful and is not backed by the First Amendment.



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Stretching or protecting the First Amendment?