Freedom of Speech Week: Breaking Down the First Amendment

If you live in America (and chances are, if you’re reading this... you do), we have a fun little thing called the First Amendment. The First Amendment says, in its entirety, that “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.”

 

D*mn. That’s a lot. So let’s break that down into smaller pieces. Congress can’t abridge your freedom of speech (or the freedom of the press to do their journalism thing), or your right to peacefully protest (or gather in groups of like-minded individuals to discuss community changes), or the petition (“sue”) the government for messing with you unfairly.

 

Now, this week is about the Freedom of Speech in this country, but all these other pieces tie into this. The press is allowed to publish true facts that may make the government look really bad. 

 

The government can’t (theoretically) kidnap you in the back of an unmarked van for making fun of “covfefe.” 

 

You-Know-Who will complain about this on Twitter, but he can’t have you tried as a traitor. The government can not interfere with the press, except in very select cases, like if the information can be a national security risk. An example of this could be talking about a new plan to take out a terrorist base on a specific day in a specific place or leaking information about a murder case that can cause some mob vigilantism (aka, citizens taking justice into their own hands by killing or otherwise maiming the perpetrator).

 

The First Amendment is overruled in situations where you are verbally threatening harm to other people (ideally). You can’t tweet “I’m gonna curb stomp the President and half the supreme court to death on Monday the 20th.” You will get arrested and treated as a traitor. Ideally, this would also apply to the death and rape threats women get on Twitter, but we’re not really there as a country yet. You can not credibly threaten someone’s life and pull the “free speech” card.

 

You can make clubs and organizations! The government can not unjustly disband your group that gets together to trash a certain reality-star President. If you get together to discuss killing him, the government can charge you with conspiracy and treason. But if you just want to roast somebody’s little baby hands and his refusal to wear a mask in a pandemic because it’s “feminine,” roast away, cuties.

 

You probably have noticed that each one of these paragraphs exclusively mentions the government. I have a shocker that you might need to sit down for.

 

Freedom of speech only applies to what the government can and can’t do.

 

Now, social media platforms will have their own rules, which honestly let you do anything you want as long as you don’t say the word “men” in criticism of rape culture or make fun of the cops. You can write all about how you think women shouldn’t get to vote or how gay people are going to hell; and these platforms will probably just give you a “WARNING: THIS MESSAGE IS SIMILAR TO ONES THAT HAVE BEEN REPORTED. PROCEED?” and then never check when people report you for being a d*ck.

 

Now, if you’re in a protected class (based on gender, race, sexuality, etc.) people can’t legally fire you for expressing any of the above. You can sue them for discrimination if they do ideally

 

But I got another shocker for you: a**hole isn’t a protected class.

 

You can absolutely get fired for being a racist on Twitter. You can absolutely be cut off from your friends or family for being homophobic. You can (and hopefully will) get dumped for being misogynistic and transphobic.

 

So yes, you have the legal right to say whatever the f*ck you want.

 

But we’re allowed to call you a f*cking idiot and ignore you for it.

 

So for this Freedom of Speech week, be thankful that the government can’t arrest you for Tweeting that systemic racism is bad.

 

But you can absolutely still bully racists on Instagram.