Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Nat'l Security v. Free Speech

Balancing free speech and national security has long been an issue for the United States Government. The socialist and anti-war beliefs of Eugene V. Debs opposed Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policy stand; his dissidence alone caused him to be arrested, along with nearly 2,000 others. A few years later, the case of Gitlow v. New York in 1925 ended in a Supreme Court decision that restrictions can be placed on free speech if certain words involve “danger to the public peace and to the security of the state.” A couple of decades later in the 1940s and 1950s, there was a fear that the Communists might overthrow and destroy the government. The Smith Act of 1940 punished the advocacy of overthrowing the government, limiting the speech of leftists in exchange for national security. In the 1957 Yates v. United States case, a modification was placed on the Smith Act that distinguished between a written statement of an idea and the advocacy that a certain action be taken.

Since September 11, the issue of national security and free speech has been thoroughly examined, especially after the passage of the Patriot Act. Protecting citizens from terrorism has taken the form of limiting free speech and 1st Amendment rights. FBI agents are allowed to read e-mails and listen into private phone calls. Keeping that in mind, people are fearful of saying the wrong thing, which itself is a limit of free speech. Also, the government can deem people associated with certain political groups terrorists if it feels that they are a threat to national security. Speeches, letters to the editor, or any comment about the government and its actions that undermines its anti-terrorism efforts can be potentially silenced under the Patriot Act. While maintaining a certain level of national security is very important, violating the 1st Amendment is never acceptable. In fact, a government that takes away our speech is a government that should be overthrown.

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