Censorship and the First Amendment:
The American Citizen\'s Right to Free Speech

English 1302
13 March 1997

Censorship and the First Amendment:
The American Citizen\'s Right to Free Speech
Are we protected from censorship under the First Amendment? In other words do individuals or groups have the right or the power to examine material and remove or prohibit anything they consider objectionable? This argument has been progressing for centuries, in fact the first notable case was against John Peter Zenger, in 1743. Zenger was an editor of a New York colonial newspaper that often published articles critical of the colonial governor. He successfully argued that publishing the truth should be a defense and thus defied the conventional wisdom and ended colonial intrusion into freedom of the press (Harer 21). Since that case, the progression through time has expanded matters to the complicated issues we see today. The founders of the United States government tried to protect this liberty by assuring a free press, to gather and publish information without being under control or power of another, in the First Amendment to the Constitution. So why do we need to be concerned if we, as citizens, have been properly protected under the constitution? Our concerns occur, on account of special interest groups that are fighting to change the freedom of expression, the right to freely represent individual thoughts, feelings, and views, in order to protect their families as well as others. These groups, religious or otherwise, believe that publishing unorthodox material is an abuse of free expression under the First Amendment. As we will come to find, our Supreme Court system plays an exceedingly important role in the subject of free speech and expression. As well as, understanding that the court system is the nucleus of the construing our First Amendment rights.
First we must focus on the motivation and foundations behind these individuals attempting to challenge the right to free speech. There are various reasons given for censorship: in a classroom or library they may restrict or ban a book or other learning resource because it includes
social, political, or religious views believed to be inappropriate or threatening. A movie or television program may be considered violent, or obscene because of nudity or indecent behavior. A song or speech may contain language thought to be vulgar, or ideas and values that some consider objectionable. Furthermore, a group may edit or withhold a newspaper story from publication because they may judge it as a threat to national security. All though these examples are valid motivations for censorship, initiating these steps would unveil a censorship disaster. It is my view that this action would cause a national uprise of interests groups, as well as the individual, demanding that every division of published information be censored.
We must identify exactly who these individuals are that want these items censored. Looking at all levels of American citizens, some are legislators on a local, state, and even federal level. Others are members of boards or committees, organized to review books, films, or other forms of communication on behalf of a community. Occasionally the censors are teachers, librarians, or school administrators, who determine that a book or a classroom item may not be suitable for the students. Often censors are parents, members of religious groups, or just citizens who are concerned about the presence of indecent or improper material in their schools, libraries, theaters, book stores, television, and else where in the community. These individuals are concerned with indecent or improper material in their communities.
Shifting to the opposite view on this topic, there are those individuals that oppose the power to censor. There are members of society that believe in the freedom to speak publicly and to publish. This is a basic belief in the freedom of expression and is to be protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. On the eve of the bicentennial of the Bill of Rights, the first wave of a nationwide survey, comprising more than 1,500 citizens was conducted. Through this survey it was found that Americans rate free speech as their second most precious First
Amendment right and regard a free press highly in the abstract (Wyatt 87). This amendment states: Congress shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting