The Supreme Court is busy with the controversy surrounding free speech.
Speech should be limited if it threatens national security, is offensive, or hurts a person's reputation, for example, or if it hinders the judicial process.
The Supreme Court has had to navigate a maze of conflicting arguments as it has assessed the constitutionality of a variety of congressional and state laws that do, indeed, abridge the freedom of speech and of the press.
If we think about why we value free speech so much in the first place, we can appreciate what is at stake in the battles over when and what kind of speech should be protected.
citizens are responsible for their government's decisions To participate wisely, citizens must be aware of what their government is doing.
To fully report on government's activities is required.
The flow of information is controlled by people in the government.
Mediated citizenship gives us more channels to access information, but it also means more channels to monitor for truth and reliability.
Citizens and journalists can exercise an additional check on government by being free to voice criticism of government, to investigate its actions, and to debate its decisions.
The watchdog function of freedom of expression helps keep government accountable and less likely to step on our rights.
Setting a dangerous precedent of censorship is avoided by allowing free speech in society.
When a powerful entity decides what information can be passed through the channels or even what channels are allowed, it's called censorship.
In a democracy, the voice of the majority usually prevails, although we also see examples of elite minorities developing monopolies on information.
One of the reasons to support minority rights is that we don't know when we will fall into the minority.
We will be vulnerable to censorship if we make it a legitimate activity of government.
The free traffic of all ideas, those known to be true as well as those suspected to be false, is essential in a society that values truth according to political theorist John Stuart Mill.
By allowing the expression of all ideas, we discover truths that we had previously believed to be false, and we develop strong defenses against known falsehoods.
The vision of John Stuart Mill grappling with the possibilities of the wild west of the internet is priceless.
Free speech requires tolerance of ideas and beliefs other than our own that we find repugnant.
If they are in the majority, they don't see a reason to practice tolerance.
It is clear to them that the kind of society they believe should exist should not be created by false or objectionable language.
There is only one ultimate channel of information that counts for them.
It is the Supreme Court that has to balance the claims of those who defend.
Difficult decisions have to be made about how to apply the First Amendment to speech that criticizes government, symbolic speech, obscenity, and other offensive speech, as well as about freedom of the press and censorship on the Internet.
The interpretation the Court uses today is a political tale.
The founding fathers were aware of the potential consequences of inciting their countrymen to revolution against England, because they had engaged in daily criticism of their government.
During the war, it was felt that criticism of the government destroyed patriotism.
It was easy for those in government to control the information that they wanted to keep.
Speech advocating the end of slavery was punished by state governments in the South in the early 1800s.
The views of radical political groups, labor activists, religious sects, and other minorities were destroyed by all levels of government, with the support and encouragement of public opinion.
War in Europe was seen as partly due to the influence of evil ideas, and leaders in America were determined to keep those ideas out of the United States.
People promoting socialism, anarchism, revolution, and even labor unions were put down hard by the government.
The Espionage Act of 1917 made it a crime to be disloyal.
It was possible to arrest people on the flimsiest pretexts because of sweeping prohibitions.
The Supreme Court did not object to the idea that speech that criticizes the government could be punished.
How bad the speech had to be before it could be banned was the question it dealt with.
The clear and present danger test was slow to catch on because the majority opinion of the Court was not represented byHolmes's views.
The power of foreign ideas, especially communism, was seen as a threat to the American way of life by Congress after World War II.
The Smith Act of 1940 made it illegal to advocate for a violent overthrow of the government.
The Communist Party had to register with the U.S. attorney general as the communist scare picked up speed after the war.
The House Un-American Activities Committee and Sen. Joseph McCarthy were both looking for communists at the same time.
Even if there was no evidence to back up the accusation, it was enough to stain a person's reputation.
Many careers and lives were ruined.
They were not protected by the clear and present danger test.
Even though there was no danger of imminent harm, the Supreme Court upheld convictions under the Smith and McCarran Acts.
The balance between society's interests in prohibiting the speech and the value of free speech has come to be seen as the clear and present danger test.
During the 1950s, Sen. Joseph McCarthy led an investigation of suspected communists in the government.
McCarthy failed to find evidence of communists in the government despite his investigations.
He died in disgrace after being censured by the Senate.
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