Civil Rights in the United States

By Alison Reppy | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTORY REMARKS

"LET 'em. talk. This is a free country, ain't it!" Simple, isn't it? Merely the colloquial expression of the First Amendment.

Does this mean that people may express opinions or hold meetings which have a tendency to stir up disorder? Does this mean the right to yell "Fire!" in a theatre? Does it include the right to use what may be called "trigger" or insulting words? May one advocate revolution, if he does it in words and there is no overt act? How about clear and present or probable danger? May States pass laws requiring permits for labor organizers as a condition of addressing meetings? May cities pass ordinances which require permits to hold meetings on the streets or in the parks? How about loud speakers and amplifiers in streets and buses in the Grand Central Station? How about laws like the Feinberg law, or investigations by Congressional committees, which make people timid in expressing themselves? Do these abridge freedom of speech? Does freedom of speech include the right to remain silent? When you consider these questions And various other instances that arise under an infinite variety of circumstances, it will be seen that the question isn't so simple after all.

In a complicated society there are no absolutes. It has been said that the right to swing your arm ends where the other fellow's nose begins. But it is thought by many that in the realm of thought and expression there are absolutes. The question is, of course, where the line should be drawn. To many, it seems that the proper line should be at the point of direct incitement, and that any opinion or speech short of incitement has, or should have, constitutional protection. Is this the present judicial view?

-ix-

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