The First Amendment has been a staple in the United States since December 15, 1791. Having the right to say whatever you want to say, within reason, has allowed people to become more unified or divided depending on the views they are able to share. The First Amendment states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peacefully to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” As always, there are certain exceptions.
Exceptions to the First Amendment include categories of obscenity, child pornography, defamation, incitement of violence and true threats of violence. The most common examples of taking your rights too far are yelling “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater or mentioning you have a bomb in an airport when in fact that is not true. Those statements will cause a public state of fear and result in consequences.
In colleges, students do have the right to voice their opinions but are often too timid or shy to because they are afraid of saying something that others don’t necessarily agree with. That is where various clubs come along. While students may feel a little too intimidated to share their ideas because others may completely shut them out, some campuses are creating safe spaces for students to share their stories about particular topics that they would be too scared to talk about otherwise. Fresh U compiled a list of the best ways to get involved in free speech activism on your campus.
Penn State has an on-campus organization called Operation Beautiful that allows students who have been demoralized and bullied for their looks to share their stories and boost their confidence. Their overall purpose is to try to put an end to what the club calls “fat talk” on campus. The club's president, Marisa Iglesias, states:
“Everyone has their own perception of what they call ‘beauty.’ Not every person you come across is someone you’ll find beautiful. But what Operation Beautiful is here to do is to attempt to put an end to body shaming. Yes, people still have the right to say what they want about others, but I believe it is crossing a line when people have the nerve to make fun of others or say mean things just because that is not what they themselves personally consider beautiful. Words can hurt, and it especially crosses a line when it causes girls to take drastic measures on their bodies.”
College Human Rights Review
At Harvard, there is a club called College Human Rights Review that reviews various publications in the news and serves as a forum that addresses human rights — including freedom of speech — that the mainstream media ignores. Students at Harvard can apply to analyze and write about the aspects of human rights that various media outlets tend to purposely overlook. In doing so they can make their articles go viral so others are able to see how much media outlets are trying to cover up. Kate Hoffman, a senior at Harvard and the co-editor-in-chief of College Human Rights Review, said:
“Nowadays media outlets are trying to make the general public believe what they want the individuals to believe. It is disheartening for the media to leave out crucial pieces of information only to benefit themselves. Soon everything is going to become a lie.”
Not only is freedom of speech a pressing problem on college campuses, but it is equally, if not more of, a problem nationally. There are many different organizations all across the United States that people can join to make sure they completely understand the rights granted by the First Amendment and are using it to the most of their ability.
First Amendment Center
One important organization that is available to the general public is the First Amendment Center. It is an educational center that is located at the John Seigenthaler Center at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN and at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. The First Amendment Center supports the rights of the First Amendment and allows citizens to build an understanding of the core freedoms through education, information and entertainment. If you take a look at their website, you are able to see a lot of news, information and commentary about the current state of the First Amendment in the United States. To check out their website, click here.
Media Legal Defence Initiative
The Media Legal Defence Initiative, although based in London, offers an important service to all of the journalists out there. It is a non-governmental organization that provides legal assistance to independent media workers, bloggers and journalists. If anyone ever has a question about what is appropriate to be posted online, it is important to contact this organization. They provide assistance for free, but the only way they are able to do that is with donations, interns, volunteers and referral partners. If you would like to donate, click here.
The Voice Project has a mission of defending freedom of expression and helps people who have been prosecuted for using their voices creatively for a change. Unfortunately, there have been many cases where people have been falsely accused or accused for the wrong reasons when it comes to voicing their opinions. The global headquarters are in New York City and you are able to donate to this cause by clicking here. As stated on their website, the co-founder Hunter Heaney noted,
“Intimidation often happens in dark corners, we shine a bright light.”
Peacefire is a website based in Bellevue, Washington, that is dedicated to preserving the First Amendment rights for Internet users, especially those under the age of 18. There are certain web content filtering and content censoring software that exist and Peacefire takes action against those websites that censor Internet content. So far, they have gotten rid of some common web filters which is a step closer to achieving what they are set out to do: make sure that First Amendment rights are consistent online.
Two recent graduates from Hershey High School in Pennsylvania have been affected in a not-so-positive way when it comes to freedom of speech. They even made national news.
Andi Moritz, a freshman at Bryn Mawr University, recently dropped out because of the harassment she has received by merely making a post on her college’s Facebook page asking for a RideShare to a Trump event. She was hounded with derogatory comments that made her drop out of college after her first semester and contemplate suicide. You can read her entire story by clicking here.
Another heartbreaking story is that of a man named Ricky Bugg. He is a junior at Lebanon Valley College. Recently he was out eating at a small restaurant that he goes to on a regular basis. But during the middle of his meal, a worker approached him and stated that he needed him to leave because he was black and that he doesn’t need money from a black person. To read more, click here.
Moral of the story: be considerate. With the fragile state that some our country is in right now, it is really important to voice your opinions in an appropriate manner. Words do have the power to completely change a person forever in a negative manner. Yes, you are able to voice your opinion on subjects and people however you please, but, although cliche, talk to others how you would want to be talked to. That is the best way to stay positive in light of recent events. Think before you speak or post.
Read the rest of Fresh U's series on college activism below:
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