LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 08: Freedom of speech campaigners demonstrate in Parliament Square on October 8, 2013 in London, England. The rally coincides with members of Parliament debating the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, ahead of a key vote on tomorrow. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

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Did the Founding Fathers put the Bill of Rights in order of importance? I think they did because the one single amendment that had the most effect on the success of America was the First Amendment. Most commonly known as the “Freedom of Speech” amendment.

The First Amendment

The first amendment spells out government’s role or rather lack of role when it comes to our most basic freedom, the freedom to express ourselves. This short phrase gives all of us the freedom to express our thoughts and opinions no matter how they are received.

 “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

First Amendment Gray Areas

As we all know, the First Amendment doesn’t cover all speech. There are libel laws and slander laws. The most common example of free speech restriction is, “You can’t yell FIRE in a crowded theatre.” Unless of course there actually happens to be a fire in the crowded theatre.

Freedom of Speech is not complete freedom to say anything we wish. Courts are filling up with “hate crimes” that often include hate speech against a group or person.

Selective Freedom of Speech

Condoleezza Rice, Minutemen representatives, Ann Coulter, and other conservative speakers often draw the ire of students and faculties at some of our finest universities. Speakers are often shouted down or universities refuse to defend free speech against the tide of protests.

Here in Bozeman, Condoleezza Rice met strong opposition from a local professor and a minority of students who simply believed differently than she did. So while the professor was given the freedom to address his class as he saw fit, he felt compelled to deny her the same right.

Some Final Thoughts

Speech is a double-edged sword. Hate speech vs. inspirational speech. How can you allow one without the other? How can you be so fearful of other opinions that you feel the need to silence that speech at all costs? If you’ve silenced someone are you victorious? Is your vocal position somehow enhanced?

In today’s 24/7/365 sound bite climate it seems that “Fear of Speech” has replaced “Freedom of Speech.” If your position is strong and right it should withstand any kind of attack. Davy Crockett once said, “First be sure you’re right — then go ahead.”

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