Politics, Uncategorized, United States

Our American Rights

How would you feel getting you freedom of speech amendment taken away? This is what happened during wartime in the United States. In the early 20th century, many people put up posters disapproving of the war. One of the most famous people to do this is Charles Schenck. In World War I, he sent letters to people enlisted in the military and stated “the draft was a monstrous wrong motivated by the capitalist system” (Oyez). He was caught and sent to prison for 10 years. He is part of the reason the First amendment can protect only certain statements. For example, yelling “Fire! There’s a fire!” in a crowded theatre is prohibited. Charles Schenck brought attention to this controversial topic and questions whether or not the government should restrict freedom of speech during war time.

In 1914-1918, World War I changed the way we thought and many laws. Our First Amendment states we have the freedom of speech but when war broke out that changed. Statements that could start more chaos, for example “Bombs!” were not taken lightly. The Espionage Act was passed towards the end of the war in 1918; and made it a crime to say bad things about the government, flag, country, etc. About 2,000 people were arrested for this crime during war time. The United States of America should not have gotten into World War I but Germany sent a telegram message to Mexico more widely known as the Zimmerman Note. This contained details on Germany wanting Mexico to invade the United States. This would prevent the United States from entering World War 1 and not let them help out fellow friends France and Great Britain. Also in May of 1915, the United States had an ocean liner come into Germany declared war zone. After multiple warnings sent to the United States to not send ocean liners in this war zone, Germany torpedoed the ship and sunk it along with 1,198 people. The United States alongside its  pro war president, Woodrow Wilson. The United States then declared they would be entering World War 1. All though many people were towards this war, many people such as Charles Schenck were against the war.

The Schenck v. United States case was at the top of a list of Supreme Court Cases clarifying todays meaning of the First Amendment. He was against the World War I because he thought it was not important enough and tried to stop it from happening which violated the Espionage Act. It also  made anyone who tried to make any soldiers betray their orders, responsible for a crime. Schenck was trying to defend himself by saying he was protected by the first amendment but Holmes, someone who was not on a side, “concluded that Schenck is not protected in this situation” (Oyez). But the government said that Schenck’s papers and letters were supposed to weaken or stop the obedience of draftees and to stop military recruiting. Because it was during a time of war, it was looked at much more seriously than other cases. People were scared and it did not help. This time period was very sensitive, panic and chaos could be easily started and because of that; the First amendment had to be clarified. Justice Holmes had written the final report for the Supreme Court. The decision was saying that it did not violate his First Amendment right to free speech. He did confess that in many places and in other times Charles would have had a right to say anything and everything that he wrote in his letters. However, he said “that how far a person’s freedom of speech extends depends on the circumstances” (Holmes). During war the government has the power to stop barriers to recruitment. It also has the power to give consequences to someone who uses words that are meant to cause such obstacles. Having an absolutist view means that “speakers may never be punished for what they say” (Fort Valley). However, they can get in trouble for the place, time, or content in which they say it. A famous quote made during the trial was “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic” (Holmes).

Yelling certain things in public would not be okay because there is a good chance many people would get hurt because of fear and hysteria. In fact, while Obama was president; he threw so many people in jail for doing this. He is ranked number one out of all presidents to put people in jail. People would leak fake news and Obama wanted them to “suffer consequences [and] in some case, it’s criminal” (Obama). False claims are often not protected by the First amendment. Another example could be yelling bomb at and airport or saying you have a gun at school. People would get scared and try to run but some people could get trampled, pushed down, and even more seriously injured. Christopher Hitchens is a world wide  debater and he gave a speech about the First Amendment. He yelled “ Fire! Fire! Fire, fire, fire… Now you’ve heard it. Not shouted in a crowded theatre” (Hitchens). This is where this line came from and it is a great example of how yelling something out like that in crowded place can become violent fast and cause panic or anxiety in a large group.

The First amendment does not protect all words spoken. It could depend on the situation, place, and what exactly was said. People should not make false statements that could endanger other people. Making this decision would keep everyone safer and keep others from getting in trouble and going to jail. If there is another President like Obama, you could get in big trouble.

Article by Kelcie Bonal

Works Cited

Editors, The. “Christopher Hitchens: ‘Freedom of Speech Means Freedom to Hate.”.” The

Skeptical Libertarian, 30 July 2017, blog.skepticallibertarian.com/2014/09/30/christopher-hitchens-freedom-of-speech-means-freedom-to-hate/.

“{{Meta.pageTitle}}.” {{Meta.siteName}}, www.oyez.org/cases/1900-1940/249us47.

“World War I (1914–1919).” SparkNotes, SparkNotes, www.sparknotes.com/history/%20european/ww1/context/.

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