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Free Speech: An Essential Human Rights Issue

Updated: Feb 12

Written by Cove Johnson Rabidoux

Free speech is a key human right that is often taken for granted. It allows people to express their views and opinions without fear of censorship or retribution. It is an essential aspect of democracy and an important part of a functioning civil society. Without it, people would be unable to engage in meaningful conversations and debates to express their ideas freely. For the United States, the concept of free speech was introduced in the First Amendment on December 15, 1791. The First Amendment was part of the Bill of Rights, which was the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment states, “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.”

As a result, free speech is not just about the right to say what you want, but also the right to hear what others have to say. Additionally, freedom of the press. The idea of free speech is especially crucial in a world where misinformation spreads rampantly through social media and where many people are exposed to only a limited range of information and opinions. By allowing people to hear and consider a variety of different perspectives, free speech helps to promote a more informed and open-minded society. And even today, our freedom of speech is still limited in many places.

Free speech is often violated in many parts of the world, including the USA. Governments, corporations, and other powerful groups often attempt to limit or control what people can say or hear. This can be done through censorship, threats, and even physical forms of intimidation. 

There have been many recent bans on art, performances, and most of all, books. Banning books is a frequent topic of discussion and one that is very controversial. Many believe that book banning goes against the First Amendment because it stops the public from being informed. But, the U.S. Supreme Court has only weighed in on the subject of banning books once and the ruling wasn’t definitive because no opinion commanded a majority. Though there was not a clear majority opinion, the case suggests that school boards have broad discretion over library books but do not have unlimited authority to remove books from library shelves. Book banning also serves as a way to diminish the voices of the book's authors. The books that get banned are predominantly written by people who identify as people of color. These attempts to limit free speech have serious impacts on people’s lives and their ability to express themselves. 

Despite the challenges that free speech faces, it is still a vital part of society. Without free speech, a democracy and a civil society cannot exist, and we would be left without an effective way to resolve our differences and create a more just and equitable world. So Happy December –the Universal Human Rights Month!

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