Here in the Streets of American Nights
When looking at the romanticised nation that is the United States, we often neglect the evident faults in their society. The First Amendment of their Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, expression along with free association. The highest law of the land, the Bill of Rights, ensures that every citizen has certain rights and no US Government can deprive them. But has this always been accurately upheld? While exercising our right to free speech, we have Perspectoverse’s Shreya Datta on this topic.
While growing up, citizens from all over the world have been taught to envision a perfect life which has to begin in the United States. It is the country. However, every nation has its friction points and America’s friction points are often highlighted when elected leaders become autocratic. The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States guarantees freedom of speech from which we can infer that no Government can forbid individuals from expressing their opinion or publishing what they like. A US Supreme Court Justice had once said that Freedom of Expression “is the matrix, the indispensable condition, of nearly every other form of freedom.”
However, every country with a law in place regarding Freedom of Speech and Expression has its exceptions and its loopholes. With the onset of the Black Lives Matter and the Me Too movement, there has been a national and public dialogue about racism and , sexual harassment and other issues. With raised awareness about these movements, it calls for laws to punish statements that are derogatory to an individual’s gender or race. The point of regular debate is when this cover of law is removed, what is the breaking point of freedom of speech. How long can an individual garb his hateful opinion under the cover of “freedom of speech and expression?”
As opposed to misconceptions, the country does not have a law that punishes hate speech. Hateful speeches that incite lawlessness or violence in some situations may be punished as a hate crime, but it is upto the discretion of the jury. The Supreme Court of the country strongly believes that the nation is a place for open debate and discourse where people are allowed to say what they want. This directive may raise eyebrows when students in schools or colleges make statements about gender, race, nationality or ethnicity. The campus controversies may be an example of freedom of speech in flux.The American society advocates for free speech but strongly objects to the spread of hateful messages.
With respect to the American media, a barrage of tweets by previous President Donald Trump brought the credibility of the media to the limelight. The outrage regarding “fake news” propagated by the President, who refused to accept the Presidential results of 2020, were harmful to society in more ways than one. Many media critics believe that the media has given up the strive to be fair and objective. However, the job of the media is to be the watchdog to hold the Government accountable whenever needed and to provide the truth on a platter. The relentless reporting of The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the American Foreign Press and various other regional papers shows the way the media should function.
Another point which is controversial is that the Freedom of Speech law only restricts itself to the Government and its organs. However, there is a thin line between private action and government orders, which are often blurred. The usage of social media for communication by politicians and activists is another instance where freedom of speech can be questioned. Facebook and Twitter are private corporations that do not come under the diaspora of public owned entities. In a challenge by individuals who were barred from President Trump’s Twitter account, a federal judge ruled that blocking access to individuals based on their viewpoint violated the First Amendment. If the ruling is upheld on appeal, it may open up an entire new avenue of First Amendment inquiry.
We apologise for ruining the American dream for the readers.
Written by Shreya Datta
Illustrated by Anushka Doshi
The American Bar Association- The Ongoing Challenge to Define Free Speech (americanbar.org)
The American Civil Liberties Union- Your Right to Free Expression | American Civil Liberties Union (aclu.org)