Opinion: First Amendment protections vital to society

From The Echo:

The First Amendment guarantees citizens certain rights: to religion, to free speech, to freedom of the press, to petition the government and to peacefully protest. However, there are limits on each of these rights. Although the government dangerously places limits on some freedoms, the scarier limit is the ones our peers and fellow citizens try to place on the rights given by the First Amendment.

Many have debated for years over which part of the First Amendment is the most vital to our constitutional republic and limited democracy. Each facet has its purpose, and each protects the rights of individuals that are not solely granted by the government, but given to us at birth. However, there are two parts of the amendment that connect very close with each other: the right to free speech and the freedom of the press.

The idea of having a free discourse of ideas between individuals, and the ability of the press to write about all of these ideas, was important to the founding fathers — they doubly protected free speech. Over the last few years free speech has been marred and encroached on by both the government and our peers.

If individuals are fearful to speak their mind there are two consequences. Those around them proceed to live in a bubble, where they hear no diverse opinions and nothing challenging their views. The second consequence is the prevention of the individual’s right to free speech.

It cannot be tolerated for our peers to shut us down. Threatening someone because of their political beliefs is unacceptable. It is a weak argument and only makes the person look like an uneducated bully. I have an incredibly personal experience with peers attempting to shut me down. Through threats online, fellow students of mine reacted to an opinion I shared in a previous article.

Nobody should ever feel unsafe or undervalued because of their political beliefs. While those who threatened me made me feel unsafe, I will not allow them to make me feel undervalued. If we cannot have a respectful, productive dialogue in this country about issues that matter to us, how can we expect our leadership to do the same? We must continue to support free speech and the free exchange of all ideas, especially the ones that make us uncomfortable. Fostering this free exchange of ideas is crucial to a successful American democracy.

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