Overview of the Concept of Freedom of Speech
In the book Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment, the author Anthony Lewis gives us lots of law cases following by the timeline to state how the First Amendment developed and what its meaning in both law and society is. By reading this book after listening to lectures about free speech and reading A Gift of Fire written by Sara Baase, the textbook for the lecture, I have learned more detailed about the history and definition development of the freedom of speech and hence came up some new thoughts towards my life.
While ruling by the England colonist, people living in the North America had ...view middle of the document...
8) like what the king of the England colonist did. At that time, James Madison, a “leading figure in the making of the constitution” (Lewis, P.8), proposed twelve constitutional amendments to the House and Senate. The First Amendment we have today was the third one on his list, most terms of which were ratified by the House and Senate.
The Change of the Definition of Freedom
Seven years after 1791 when the First Amendment was added to constitution, a law was passed to punish disrespectful comment about president (Lewis, P.x). On the contrary, most of the American media criticize and mock president so hard today. Thus, some interpretation of the First Amendment must be changed. If the definition of freedom were really based on what James Madison and those who votes for the First Amendment were doing, it would not be so dramatic. In fact, when some judges and lawyers look at “the ‘original intention’ of its Framers” (Lewis, P.9), there are no definitions of freedom offered in the ratification process and no record found in either House or Senate (Lewis, P.41). Therefore, what Chief Justice Charles Evans said, “Constitution is what judges say it is”, was highly realistic.
While defining freedom, libel used to be the toughest problem. Before 1960, libel had always been considered having nothing to do with the First Amendment. Anyone who published a libel was guilty and must be punished. In 1960, NewYork Times was sued by L.B. Sullivan, an administrator of Montgomery, Alabama, since it published an advertisement to support civil rights movements mentioning an anonymous “violator” who may infer to Sullivan (Lewis, P.49). The Times’s lawyer, Herbert Wechsler, argued that it was the time to achieve the value of press in the Constitution and free press for criticizing the officials was what Madison would like to see in the First Amendment. Hence, Justice William J. Brennan Jr. delivered the victory for the Times stating that officials would win libel damages if they were able to prove it a lie. This case wrote libel into federal constitutional law and affected the laws of other countries. From then on, intense issues including racial context and criticisms on politicians are free to be expressed.
Thanks to this change in free speech, we are able to criticize our government and its officers freely without worrying about getting punishment. I believe criticism is one of the most effective way to help our government find out whether it did is good or bad and right or wrong to the citizens. It is also a significant tool to help our country grow better in economy, society, and politics.
Pros and Cons about the Book
As a student who didn’t know much about the First Amendment, Lewis’s book is a great background source for me. Since it contains a large number of significant law cases to establish a complete framework of the constitutional process, development, and effects of the First Amendment, it is much more interesting to read this book just like...