Freedom of Speech, Internet Censorship and SOPA

Gaye Levy, Contributing Writer
Activist Post

The First Amendment to the Constitution 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.”

Whoa boy. I don’t want to imply that there has been the wholesale disregard on the part of our current government when it comes to upholding hold this amendment, but, at least when it comes to the part about “freedom of speech”, things are beginning to look a bit murky. And, today, with many popular websites undergoing a “blackout” in protest of the proposed Stop Online Piracy (SOPA) legislation, I thought I would offer my own thoughts on the matter.

First of all, it is a given that freedom of speech is the right of citizens of the United States. This means that our government cannot and should not be making an attempt to restrict or penalize speech because of its content or viewpoint. So, when there is talk of restricting Internet content, my eyebrows go up quizzically, wondering just what limits would be placed on those restrictions. Moreover, as electronic media becomes the norm rather than the exception, how does reading something on the Internet differ from reading a book, a magazine, or a printed newspaper?

Let’s take a look at printed books. For years, various books have been censored in the schools. Heck, books such as James Joyce’s Ulysses, J. D. Salinger’s Catcher In the Rye, and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn have each been censored at one time or another. The point is that at some point, some “authority” decided what was appropriate and what was not. Looking back on these specific titles, it seems silly does it not?

Moving on to the Internet and Internet content, do you really want some “authority” to determine what is appropriate and what is not? I don’t think so. As a matter of fact, to me that smacks of the regulation of thoughts and the regulation of ideas. It means less freedom and more mind control. Clearly, that is not a good thing.

I would like to suggest that legislated Internet censorship by our government goes too far. It translates into the elimination of our right to express individual ideas and opinions publicly on blogs, in forums and in online newsletters. And it translates into the deprivation of our right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.  I don’t know about you, but I take pride in the fact that I can say whatever I want, read whatever I want, and think whatever I want. As long as I am not causing harm, there is no reason for our government to stifle these acts. And they most certainly should not do so by telling me that it is for the “greater good”.

Let us call it what it is: Government censorship is a way for government to control society by protecting its citizens from what it thinks is appropriate. And in recent times, let’s face it: The US government’s ability to use sound judgment in determining what is appropriate just plain stinks.

Today I encourage you to contact your elected officials and tell them that you oppose any attempt to censor your right to read what you want and to say what you want. Tell them that censoring the Internet will not advance freedom, but, instead, will set us back to a time when we were powerless to make our own decisions, and powerless to have a say in the way we lived our lives.

You may contact your senator here: Email your Senator and you may contact your representative here:Email your Representative.

The Final Word

I will end with this quote attributed to Mieczyslaw Maneli, a Polish diplomat and university professor who spent time in Auschwitz:

“Wherever there is a loophole in the existing laws protecting traditional American liberties, the opponents of these freedoms try to squeeze in. Whenever legislators create the slightest opening to allow some kind of censorship, the censors will be born and will march again.”

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!


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