The First Amendment protects many forms of speech, applicable to citizens of all states under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. As case law continues to define its intent and limitations, however, it is imperative to consider that the following types of speech are not within the reach of First Amendment protections: use of words that provoke actions to harm others, the manufacture, creation and distribution of obscene materials, burning draft cards in protest against war, permitting students to print school newspaper articles that go against the guidance of school administrators, obscene natured speeches made by students at school sponsored events and students advocating illegal substance use at a school sponsored event (United States Courts, n.d.).
Speech can be a powerful catalyst in the call for action and change. With today’s advanced technology, our messages can reach all borders, foreign and domestic. While every American citizen enjoys the fundamental right to speak their mind, it can often come at the cost of not realizing how their speech impacts other’s public safety by ensuing much discourse that directly impacts the current social struggles of trying to keep the peace between various religious, racial, ethnic and social groups.
This problem impacts our nation today. Its reality was roughly demonstrated by the violence that broke out between the white supremacist group and anti-racist demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia back on August 11: The day was marked by two groups clashing on views while delivering hateful words, resulting in violence and leaving many injured. Among the injured, Heather Heyer of Charlottesville, VA passed away due to wounds obtained during the incident. In this case, the Charlottesville chief of police, Al S. Thomas Jr. , claimed that the rally goers did not stick to a plan to stay separated from the counter protesters, and when the fighting broke out, all officers on site had to get into their armor-gear to intervene. He says, that was the reason it took some time to break up the fighting (Cooper, 2017; Heim, 2017).
Today, California is discovering the danger in the blurred definition of freedom of speech when the “fundamental right” is weighed against public safety matters. California lawmakers listened to Berkley’s chief of police, Andrew Greenwood, last Tuesday on October 3, 2017, as he spoke out about the current public safety issues surrounding free speech. He said that it is not an easy task to allow tendentious speech while preventing violent outbursts between various groups whose views lay on opposite sides of the spectrum.
The grave concern remains pressed against the question of how to promote and protect public safety when groups are coming together to potentially fight. In retrospect, conservative writer Ben Shapiro presented lawmakers with the point of view that there is a remarkable difference between speech and violence. Additionally, he said that there will always be speech that someone does not agree with, but that is the prime asset of a free country.
Though lawmakers did not offer any answers this time around, there are several future legislative hearings planned to further discuss issues surrounding the right of free speech and public safety (Cooper, 2017).
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Cooper, J.J. (2017, October 3). California lawmakers weigh free speech, public safety. The Mercury News. Retrieved October 9, 2017, from http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/10/03/california-lawmakers-weigh-free-speech-public-safety/
Heim, J. (2017, August 14). Recounting a day of rage, hate, violence, and death. The Washington Post. Retrieved October 9, 2017, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/local/charlottesville-timeline/?utm_term=.066c830e900d
United States Courts. (n.d.). What does free speech mean?. Retrieved October 9, 2017, from http://www.uscourts.gov/about-federal-courts/educational-resources/about-educational-outreach/activity-resources/what-does