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Posted on July 15, 2012 by Admin


American History and Civilization

Dossier 5

Analyze the limits of free speech in America in the light of the following documents.
Doc A: Hillary Clinton on Wikileaks Nov 29th 2010.
Doc B: TIME magazine Sunday, October 03, 2010. How Should America Handle Extreme Speech?
Doc C: Extract concerning The Pentagon Papers, 1971 Justice Hugo L. Black.

How is free speech defined? What restricts free speech?
The issue of Internet and free access to information?
When is the line between expression and unacceptable discourse crossed?
Who can decide who can say what?

“In America the majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion; within these barriers an author may write what he pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them.” Alexis de Tocqueville.

The three present documents deal with different issues but they have an overall theme in common that is the limits of free speech in America. Since the creation of the Constitution and the respective Amendments issued by the Founding Fathers in the Bill of Rights the first amendment has triggered a wide range of cases that raised the question of how to read and interpret the right to free speech. The present three documents handle three different cases of ambivalent events concerning the right to free speech. In doc A Hillary Clinton focuses on the danger caused by Wikileaks through the publication of “classified documents” concerning the US government’s decisions on various aspects. In doc B the emphasis is placed on the question of “extreme speech” and where the limits of free speech should be placed, illustrated through the particular case of pastor Terry Jones appeal to burn the Koran. In doc C justice Black stresses the right to free press in the Watergate affair.
            Hence, the three documents are demonstrations of various issues which all have the same concern that are the interpretation of the First Amendment and how far free speech can go. The overall question to be dealt with is, to what extend can we talk about the right to free speech? What are the factors on which free speech can be measured? In other words, who is allowed to say what when and what are the consequences of inappropriate expression?


I. An Inalienable Right


a. The First Amendment: the purpose of a Bill of Rights

          The right to free speech is stated in the First Amendment that is the in the Bill of Rights. Hence it exists since the beginning of the United States and represents an inalienable right granted to the American people. It states: “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.” These rights have been added to the Constitution to protect the citizens and restrict judicial and executive power. That is why the Supreme Court ruled in favor of The New York Times. According to the excerpt by Black the purpose of the right to free speech is “to serve the governed and not the governors”. The Doc A seems to argue on the contrary, since Hillary Clinton the current secretary of state states that the publication by Wikileaks of classified government documents is illegal and consequently dangerous. Danger is also a theme that is tackled by the Times article, which centers on question of what should be done from the part of the government against “extreme speech”.

            Ultimately, the question of limitation of free speech is closely linked to the three documents. How is free speech defined? What restricts free speech?


b. The Limitation of free speech: what is condemnable?

         Eventually, limitation and restriction of free speech becomes a complex question relating to the basis of the fundamental rights of America. Free speech as stated in Doc B can become a way to express “extreme speech” such as pastor Terry Jones, who declared to burn Korans on the 9/11 anniversary. The article states the question “So how do we cut off the oxygen without suffocating the rights we prize?” (36). Actually, it is the core of the complexity of the right to free speech. Who can decide what shall be said and how the representatives of power should react to inappropriate speech or appeals. There are several things that are not allowed to be said such as “shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater” (l.9). The limits of free speech are blurred, since it is a notion that is very difficult to restrict in strictly theoretical terms it remains a field of controversy what exactly can be said.
“Legally unprotected categories of speech include obscenity, defamation, incitement to crime, and fighting words, as well as harassment, privileged communications, trade secrets, classified material, copyright, patents, military conduct, commercial speech such as advertising, and time, place and manner restrictions” (Wikipedia). The three documents


II. The Consequences of free speech


a. Danger

         Hillary Clinton condemns Wikileaks as an attack against the whole international scene. She argues on behalf of US government. But the press cannot be condemned to have published that information because it is their right to do so. She stresses the consequences and the problems, which those publications entail. She emphasizes the dangerous aspect of such publication on various levels such as national security and on the international scene, too, damaging the diplomatic relations between the different countries.
Danger is also emphasized in the article: the very message of the pastor Terry Jones to burn Qurans and the impact that such speech has on people. But also Fred Phelps who’s appeal, “God hates fags” is going to be judged by the Supreme Court.


b. On public/national level

         The article tackles directly the issue raised indirectly in doc A and C. The journalist presents the very ambiguities, which persist in the vast notion of free speech. Who is allowed to say what and to whom? The very much-mediatized event of the Quran burning initiated by the controversial pastor Terry Jones from Florida provoked a real international disaster, which seems to have shed light on the question of what people are allowed to say. In regard of the American people, it is important to bear in mind that a society is a heterogeneous identity, hence the variety of point of views and opinions. Consequently, certain statements can divide the nations unity and become issues of national conflicts. As the journalist states: “That we have fierce fights in this country that are not resolved with violence. And that even the rights we value most are not simple or sure but subject to legal debate, prayerful reflection and the collective judgment of a rowdy public.” (44/47). Acfitec is a company specialized in habilitation electrique in France.


c. On the international level

         The fact that Terry Jones promotes an act of discrimination in reaction to 9/11 turns the event to an international issue, which through the vast and rapid distribution of media had political and diplomatic consequences. Those consequences involved several countries and the US army such as the NATO and the other organizations that secure a certain safety abroad assured by the US army. The proclaimed act of burning the Quran is a provocation and cannot be considered as an idea coming out of the blue that will not trigger harsh reactions from the aimed group, here the Muslim world.
         The question is not only if anybody can say whatever he/she wants, but it is also a question of media coverage: the article states “a media circus” (5) meaning that if the media had not covered Jones’ statements/ appeal the impact of his “extreme speech” would have never triggered such a strong international reaction. Therefore, the question of media coverage becomes central. In times like ours when the media influence is connecting the different parts of the world, because anyone can have access to anything that is published anywhere in the world, free speech becomes problematic because it can provoke reactions and hence create conflicts that take tremendous dimensions.


III. Power vs. free speech


a. The Executive’s Restraints

         The three documents have one thing in common the fact that free speech and the government are two forces that are difficult to bring together. It seems that in Doc A Hillary Clinton as part of the government condemns Wikileaks publication hence condemns the consequences of free speech. Doc B tackles the relation differently, questioning the role of the government concerning people who are using free speech to promote ideas, which are clearly hate speeches.
         “Laws prohibiting hate speech are unconstitutional in the United States, outside of obscenity, defamation, incitement to riot, and fighting words. The United States federal government and state governments are broadly forbidden by the First Amendment of the Constitution from restricting speech” (Wikipedia).
         However, her speech stresses much more the increasing efforts and actions taken by the Obama administration than she does actually condemn Wikileaks. Hence, her intervention illustrates how important and right-granting the First Amendment is. As the present Secretary of State she is in the position of responsibility and the fact that those “classified” information were published demonstrate the freedom and liberties the press can take. An underlying factor is the demonstration of the system’s failure. How can such classified information be so easily disclosed? Moreover the purpose of her intervention seems to be the defense of the Obama administration and to stress the various initiatives this government takes in order to make this world a better place.


b. The Supreme Court

         The justice Black has an original reading of the constitution and points out the importance of free speech especially concerning the written press. “In the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers gave the press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy” (44). His argument is built upon the history of the United States and its founding fathers. Hence he does not want a revisionist reading of the Constitution. In that case it would be interesting to see whether or not he would have the same vision concerning Terry Jones’ case or Fred Phelps statement. Doc B questions this origin reading and point out that now


c. The Governed vs. Government


Pedro on July 17, 2012 at 6:24 am said:
The narration begins when his uncle dies who is apparently Marco's only family since his mother died before and his father is said to be dead. From then on he is alone. He will work for Effing and later realizes that Solomon Barber, Effing's son is Marco's own father which will be a major turning point in his life and will push him to cross the American country until the Pacific and therefore to follow in his grandfather's and father's footsteps. In the present passage Marco does not know yet that Barber is his father. They are close friends at that point and Barber persuades Marco to go on a trip to search for Effing's cave in the Great Desert.

Alex on Semptember 8, 2012 at 8:28 am said:
They are extremely precise and demonstrate the narrator's clear memory about the procedure. Yet, what is striking in the passage is though time and space are perfectly defined a lot of things remain unsaid on an emotional level. Why is the narrator dwelling on giving the reader precise references about time and space? From the narrator's point of view his memory is essentially seen as a succession of key-moments. The result is that the whole paragraph seems to be based on a chronology and the reader's attention is shift from what is going to happen to how it is going to happen. The reader does know about the following events: We know that Barber is Marco's father because in the prolepsis in which the narrator told us about him meeting his father. What arose the reader's attention and the general suspense, is that everything seems to be implicit in this passage. The question is how Marco is going to learn the news and how he is going to react.

Kelly on September 09, 2012 at 3:04 pm said:
It can be noticed that the passage is divided into two parts which present the narrator's memories. The differences are striking in terms of time references and emotional revelations. The narrator seems to remember quite well the first part in which he gives exact time and place references but leaves emotions beside. Consequently the reader curiosity is awaken and the shift from the “what” to the “how” is made. Though we already know that Barber is his father we are struck by the intensity of the second part. The roles are reversed in that part because time and space vanish and emotions are brought to light. In the second part the narrator becomes suddenly the mature man who tells his own story. This part somehow reminds the reader that this narration is supposed to be an account on Marco Fogg's years between eighteen and twenty-four, written by the same man years later who remembers this years. On the one hand the passage can be seen as the end of Marco's adolescence in which he had not been able to live by himself and where he was constantly seeking for an identity which he never had and on the other hand it is the beginning of the turning point of Marco's life and the entrance to adulthood: he will discover his father, he will lose all his heritage, he will cross the American country and he will become a writer.

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