First Amendment protects controversial speech

Lauren Boettcher

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“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.”

The First Amendment of the Constitution clearly states that all citizens are entitled to freedom of expression in whatever platform they desire without fear of government interference. However, there are an increasing number of people who are concerned that the First Amendment is being used as a “cop out” used to protect individuals who say racially charged or, in any other way, derogatory speech. Despite citizens’ misgivings about how this amendment protects, its main purpose is to protect the voices and opinions of all citizens and should not be threatened.

At the University of North Dakota several students were found sending racially charged snapchats including one of a group wearing blackface. The school said they found the images extremely offensive, but free speech laws prevented them from taking action.  

A student at Edina High school has been reprimanded for drawing a K.K.K. hood over another student in a snapchat. The investigation is still pending, and it is unclear what consequences the student will face. The school’s’ administration said they hoped it could be used as a learning opportunity and not become an issue they would have to deal with often.

It’s incredibly difficult to determine if derogatory speech is protected under the First Amendment. It almost seems as though this shouldn’t be a problem in 2016, yet here the problem remains.

Despite the very obvious wrongfulness of this type of speech, it is protected by the government. Like all forms of speech in the country, it has the right to be heard. A person’s opinions and right to expression are their own, and threatening them would be crossing a very, very dangerous line.

While the government cannot take direct action, this is something citizens can help change. Not with violence, or riots, but by utilizing their own right to freedom of expression. By communicating, one can only hope that society, as a whole, can begin to see how terrible the things they say can be and make responsible choices.  After all, just because something can be said doesn’t mean it can be said without consequences.