Speak Your Mind: The Censorship Controversy In American Culture

Speak Your Mind: The Censorship Controversy In American Culture

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On a rainy morning in Detroit, Michigan, a twenty-something year old man by the name of Marshall Mathers awakes to hear a pounding on his front door. After muttering a few obscene phrases, he rolls out of bed and stumbles to his front door. However, instead of facing another autograph seeker, the rapper best known by his alias Eminem (or the real Slim Shady) is face to face with two police officers. “Mr. Mathers,” one says, “we’re here to serve you with an arrest warrant. You have subjected much of America’s population to obscenity, homophobic comments, sexism, and racism, and frankly, it offends many people. We don’t want culture to face your type of commentary any more. You have the right to remain silent…” Needless to say, this scenario would never occur in the American democracy of the present. However, many in America today are advocating censorship to such an extreme that someday events such as this may become a reality. And, though time and time again court cases have ruled against censorship, many continue to fight to limit free speech in America. However, in restraining what the constitution guarantees, there is much at stake. Although many argue that censorship is necessary to protect America’s citizens, it violates one’s freedom of speech found in the First Amendment and should therefore not be practiced.

Granted, there are many reasons for advocating censorship that could be justified. Much material that is available in magazines, at the movie theater, and on the internet is considered by many to be extremely offensive. For example, the rock band Rage Against the Machine at times seems to glorify violence. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine High School gunmen, were fond of this band, and some of Rage Against the Machine’s lyrics have been assumed to have inspired the boys’ violent act. In many cases, evil can be advocated in forms of speech, causing many to believe that in order to prevent wrong from prevailing, censorship must be practiced with a fervor. In his essay “Censorship Can Be Beneficial,” Thomas Stork says, “Now if we can identify certain evils, and if advocacy of those evils seems likely to encourage people to commit them, then why should we not take the next and logical step and prohibit such advocacy… Must the authorities be helpless to restrain the source of the evil?” (20) This statement is a logical one, for one of the American government’s greatest concerns is protecting its citizens from violent acts.

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Citizens of the United States want not only to be protected from violence, but they also want to keep material out of the hands of those in the American public who would not be able to handle the ideas and themes presented in such material. Who could possibly argue that small children have the maturity to view pornographic material or be exposed to extreme violence on television? Indeed, exposing young children to “entertainment” of this sort would be detrimental to their development. And, as one lawyer reports, many believe that pornography is harmful to adults as well. The moral values endorsed by pornographic magazines, photographs, and videos are often considered offensive. Therefore, pornography has been met by a ethical firing squad that continues to fight to censor magazines such as Hustler and Playboy (Smolla 3-4). The ethical issues that are protested in many of the works that the public desires to have censored are at the forefront of the debate regarding First Amendment rights, guaranteeing that the debate over the concept of censorship will not die down any time soon.

Ethics, however, is not the issue addressed in the First Amendment. The Constitution is not concerned with Americans’ moral behavior, but rather with ensuring equal rights for all. As the document itself says, “Congress shall make no law… prohibiting the free exercise… or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” (qtd. in ACLU, “Free Speech: American Civil Liberties Union Freedom Network” 1). Therefore, neither the government nor individuals have the constitutional right to censor another person’s work. People value their First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Citizens want to be able to practice this right to any extent that they so desire. The view of forbidding censorship supports this right by declaring that any speech, even if hateful or prejudicial, is allowable, regardless of popularity. This view also allows there to be no exceptions to the right to freedom of speech. Furthermore, it allows Americans to be able to express how they feel without having to worry about “political correctness”. Regardless of a person’s ideas on an issue, he or she has the guaranteed right to express these thoughts vocally without fear of retaliation.

Even more than having a freedom from this fear, anti-censorshipism allows citizens free thought. Censorship can greatly cripple beliefs, and furthermore it prohibits many from expressing their views. As Jonathan Rauch says in the essay “Censorship is Harmful”, “In universities and on Capitol Hill, in workplaces and newsrooms, authorities are declaring that there is no place for racism, sexism, homophobia, Christian-bashing, and other forms of prejudice in public debate or even in private thought”(27). Although prejudice is agreed to be wrong by an overwhelming majority, the risks that are taken by censoring such beliefs are tremendous. In limiting certain types of speech, the government becomes inconsistent, unreliable, and unpredictable. Furthermore, government officials replace the constitution, and with each progressive act of censorship, more limitations on free speech are placed upon the American public.

Obviously, putting more limitations on Americans would not be welcomed by most citizens, and the underlying truth is that citizens of the United States value their freedom of speech to an extent that they do not realize. Every day, citizens exercise their First Amendment rights in ways that they take for granted. Therefore, censorship must not be permitted in the United States. However, the question still remains: How can the American public prevent some sorts of literature (e.g. pornography) from degrading society? The answer is by using discernment. Every person, regardless of age or ethical position, has common sense as well as a knowledge of right and wrong. It is each citizen’s responsibility to use this discernment. A parent has to use discernment in what he or she allows his or her child to watch. An individual has to use sound judgment when speaking his or her views in order to not destroy his or her reputation. Censorship is not the answer; rather, the encouragement of using one’s astuteness should be emphasized.

Although the primary intention of censorship is to protect others, due to its violation of First Amendment rights, it should not be allowed. Censorship gives many a feeling of security because citizens know that what they view is controlled; however, the underlying danger is that in the process of protecting citizens, First Amendment rights will be pushed aside. Indeed, censorship should not be accepted as a form of protection. Exercising constitutional rights is one of the greatest benefits of living in America, and American citizens should not attempt to find ways to deny these rights. Instead, these privileges should be taken advantage of, and Americans should be able to exercise their freedom of speech with no fear of the government or specific individuals retaliating. When this philosophy is practiced and Americans are able to exercise their liberty how they desire, then the United States truly becomes “the land of the free and the home of the brave”.

Works Cited
ACLU. “Free Speech: American Civil Liberties Union Freedom Network.” [Online] Available <a href="http://www.aclu.org/issues/freespeech/isfs.html">http://www.aclu.org/issues/freespeech/isfs.html. 22 February 2000.
ACLU. “Increased Government Censorship Looms on the Horizon.” [Online] Available <a href="http://www.aclu.org/news/n110697b.html">http://www.aclu.org/news/n110697b.html. 21 February 2000.
Blumner, Robyn E. “Free Even to Offend.” The St. Petersburg Times 4 January 1998.
Goodale, James C. “The First Amendment and Freedom of the Press.” [Online] Available <a href="http://www.usia.gov/journals/itdhr/0297/ijde/goodale.htm">http://www.usia.gov/journals/itdhr/0297/ijde/goodale.htm. 22 February 2000.
Hentoff, Nat. “Regulations on Sexually Harassing Speech Are Excessive.” In Opposing Viewpoints Pamphlet: Should There Be Limits to Free Speech? San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1997.
Rushdie, Salman, and Jonathan Rauch. “Censorship is Harmful.” In Opposing Viewpoints Pamphlet: Should There Be Limits to Free Speech? San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1997.
Rutherglen, George. “Regulations on Sexually Harassing Speech Are Not Excessive.” In Opposing Viewpoints Pamphlet: Should There Be Limits to Free Speech? San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1997.
Smolla, Rodney A. “The Supreme Court: Free Speech Afire with Controversy.” Trial Magazine Dec. 1989. In Social Issues Resource Series: Human Rights, vol. III: Article #38. Boca Raton, FL: SIRS, 1992.
Storck, Thomas. “Censorship Can Be Beneficial.” In Opposing Viewpoints Pamphlet: Should There Be Limits to Free Speech? San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1997.
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