Freedom Of Expression Term Paper

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FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION plays an important role in the doctrines of human liberty. However not every country grants this right to its citizens. There are many countries in the world where freedom of expression is still a contentious issue and which have been categorized by Freedom House as not being entirely free. The United States of America is one country where the constitution gives every American the freedom of speech and expression. However there have been cases where American citizens have misused this law to their own advantage. Freedom of expression and speech is a right to use and not to abuse. Amongst some of these examples are the famous cases of Texas vs. Johnson, Reno vs. ACLU, and Rav vs. St. Paul. These were landmark decisions in deciding the parameters of free expression. One of the most famous cases was the case of Texas vs. Johnson. This case pitted the state of Texas vs. Gregory lee Johnson. Johnson soaked an American flag in kerosene during the 1984 Republican Convention in Dallas, Texas. after dousing it in kerosene he burnt it in front of the convention centre to protest against the policies of the Ronald Regan administration. Other protestors who chanted along with the burning of the flag accompanied him. This got him arrested because there it was the law of Texas, which prohibited any citizen to intentionally or knowingly desecrate the flag of the United States of America. He was found guilty of his crime and sentenced to one year in prison and ordered to pay a fine.

He appealed his conviction to the United States Supreme Court using the constitution to protect his rights. He argued that he had the freedom and right to express himself through his actions. The state of Texas argued that they had the right to protect the flag as it was their right. The flag was a symbol of national unity for them.

However the Supreme Court decided to rule in the favor of Johnson with a majority of 5 to 4. The law stated that this desecration was illegal if the guilty party had knowledge that his act would offend one or more people. The court also stated that the state was tied up with attempts to suppress messages with its attempts to preserve the national flag.

This freedom of expression helped Johnson win the case. The court had decided to choose freedom of speech and expression over the attempts to suppress speech and freedom in the matter of political turmoil. This was a very controversial issue as there was a lot of debate over the verdict of this case. A lot of arguments were made over the meaning of the flag. Efforts were made to include an amendment in the constitution to prevent further desecration of the flag.

Another volatile issue was the Rav vs. Saint Paul case. This was the case of a white juvenile delinquent who burnt a cross in the fenced yard of a black family. He was arrested for violating the st. Paul Bias Motivated Crime Ordinance which finds acts of placement of any symbol on public or private property) which could infuriate anyone on the basis of race, color, creed, religion or gender) against the law. The boy contested his charge under the first amendment. The constitutional rights of the ordinance were the main issue as the court sought to know if the municipality had written a constitutional ordinance. The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed the motion as it ruled that the ordinance prohibited "fighting words" only. They ruled this unworthy of the first amendment protection as the speech was of a different nature.

The court ruled unanimously that the ordinance violated the first amendment. The Supreme Court overturned the boy's conviction. They declared that though burning a cross in someone's yard was against the law, the city of st. Paul could not single out for punishment some speech which was motivated by racial or religious hatred. According to the first amendment the city did...


The Court's new standard appears to be flawed logically because it requires states and localities to criminalize all types of "hate speech" when it may be necessary to regulate only certain types of this speech. The concurring Justices were concerned that the new standard will result in less protection for all speech because it will relax the level of scrutiny applicable to content-based laws.
Another landmark victory was the case by the American civil liberty union vs. Janet Reno. This case was all about the constitutionality of the Communications Decency Act which violated the first amendment's right of freedom of speech. In a landmark decision issued on June 26, 1997, the Supreme Court held that the Communications Decency Act violated the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech. The court issued its opinion which rejected censorship online. He established the fundamental principles to guide the judicial consideration of the internet into the 21st century.

The American Civil Liberties Union and 18 other organizations, presented the constitutional challenge to the CDA in federal court in Philadelphia on February 8, 1996, and sought to declare the law as unconstitutional. The Communications decency bill was a step taken by congress to implement laws to punish those who published pornography on the internet. This was seen by the ACLU as a violation of American rights.

On June 12, 1996, a special three-judge court in Philadelphia ruled that the Communications Decency Act is an unconstitutional abridgement of rights protected by the First and Fifth Amendments. The Department of Justice filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in the case.

The Supreme Court ruled on a 7-2 decision on June 26, and affirmed the lower court decision and held that the Communications Decency Act violates the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech.

America is the land of the free. The amendment protects a lot of people to pursue their interests and express their free will. However this freedom of speech can backfire sometimes as people tend to misuse it for their own goals. It can become a tug of war between conservatives and liberals who tend to interpret the true meaning of the constitution. It is great that a country as America allows such freedom of speech, though it can come with a heavy price if the states of the country's affairs are affected with such gross violations of the first amendment. The first amendment is a right to use and not to abuse by the citizens of the United States. Compared to other countries, no one has such freedom to do or say as they want. However in current times, people who tend to express their freedom of speech through creativity and other means have found that all their attempts to do such a thing have been quashed. So the freedom of speech can also be good as well as bad in some situations.

We have other countries such as South Africa and Kenya who also have to deal with the issues of freedom of expression. There are tough laws there which combat such efforts to allow freedom of expression. Journalists in both countries have been imprisoned for telling the truth through their media. The South African constitution states that everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom of the press and other media; freedom to receive or impart information or ideas; freedom of artistic creativity; and academic freedom and freedom of scientific research. This does not extend to propaganda for war, incitement of violence or advocating racial or any sort of hated. The South African government allows limited freedom of speech. This can be used by the government for their own advantage. If anyone in South Africa wants…

Sources Used in Documents:


1. Article 19

2. South African Constitution

Cite this Document:

"Freedom Of Expression" (2003, May 05) Retrieved April 17, 2024, from

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