Overview political speech – is vital to democracy,

Overview of Free Speech Freedom of Speech. The First Amendment. It’s likely the most well-known part of the United States Constitution, and was considered by the founders of our country to be one of the most important pieces of a free society. While in years prior it has generally been agreed upon that free speech – especially political speech – is vital to democracy, today there are some people singing a different tune. There are those who believe that certain offensive speech (or in some cases any and all offensive speech) should be prohibited by law. This idea of restricting offensive verbal content is known generally as ‘political correctness’ and will be referred to as such here. The First Amendment says that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press” , and yet there are many who claim that it is wrong to express unpleasant or insensitive opinions. Which is the correct path – free speech, or political correctness? Can they coexist, and should they? Should there be a legal limit to what people can and cannot say?  This has become a hot topic in today’s politics and even general conversations between citizens. So, where do we draw the line? We’ll look first to the courts and what they had to say about freedom of speech issues in the controversial landmark case known as Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, better known as just ‘Citizens United’.Citizens United v. FEC Shortly before the 2008 Presidential Election, a conservative corporation known as Citizens United decided that they wanted to air a film called “Hillary: The Movie” that was critical of Senator Hillary Clinton, along with advertisements for said film. The FEC claimed that this violated BCRA. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) stated that corporations and labor unions are prohibited from using funds from their general treasuries to sponsor any ‘electioneering communications’ during the election, where ‘electioneering communication’ is generally described as an advertisement aired about a particular candidate via “cable, broadcast, or satellite” within a certain time period before an election.  The District Court of Washington, D.C. upheld BCRA, saying it was constitutional for the film and advertisements for it to be restricted. The Supreme Court of the United States had a different opinion; they struck down the provisions of BCRA that banned corporations and labor unions from using funds to broadcast campaign ads, but upheld a piece of said law that said there must be sponsor disclosures on any advertisement that fits the bill. So, why did this become controversial? To start, the original argument made by Citizens United was that Hillary was a 90-minute film, not an advertisement, so it shouldn’t qualify for BCRA’s rules; but, the initial conversation went down a different path, turning this into a freedom of political speech vs. BCRA type of argument. When the ruling came out, there were obviously those in favor of it (the Courts upheld the First Amendment in their view); and there were those opposed to it, who claimed that it would allow candidates with wealthy donors and Super-PACs backing them to gain more influence over the peoples’ election decisions.  Clearly the Supreme Court seems fairly reluctant to silence free speech; but what about ordinary citizens?The Case for Political Correctness Political Correctness, or ‘PC’ is seemingly becoming very popular around the nation. Opponents of it argue that people are just getting too sensitive and the ‘PC police’ were stepping in to silence free speech. Supporters say that people haven’t become overly-sensitive – offensive speech has always been detrimental to people and society but now there’s more access to it, and people don’t want to tolerate it.  People in favor of political correctness also claim that it’s just a mask for racism and misogyny – a way for people to “throw decency out the window just to make their argument” and turn the responsibility for those thoughts away from themselves by arguing that people just ‘need to stop being so PC’.  They argue that PC is about tolerance, and learning to respect and appreciate those who are radically different from yourself.   All in all, the argument for political correctness is that it doesn’t silence free speech, it prevents people from expressing offensive opinions that are better kept to oneself. I neither understand nor accept the argument they are trying to make – how can one claim that repressing negative speech is not restricting free speech when that’s exactly what’s being done?First Amendment Rights I personally have experienced moments with PC. For example, during my time at Job Corps we had two types of trades we could learn; they were categorized as ‘hard trades’ and ‘soft trades’ when I first got there. I remember the day that they told us we needed to start referring to the hard trades as ‘construction trades’ and the soft trades as ‘office trades’ from then on because people were getting offended. My question was why – why did we have to change the terminology over some people taking it in a bad way; and what’s so offensive about those terms anyhow? This hadn’t happened in the full two decades that the Center had been up and running. So, is there really a case to be made that people aren’t getting more sensitive as time goes on? A study by the CATO Institute finds that only 28% of Americans believe that PC has helped to stop people from offending others, while 71% believe that PC has silenced important discussions that society needs to have. Moreover, that same study shows that 82% of Americans, an overwhelming majority, don’t believe in laws banning ‘hate speech’ because it’s difficult to define what it is – people are offended by different things.  The results of the study continue on to point out the biggest flaw with political correctness – people only seem to want what is offensive to them banned, not what could be considered offensive to others. I remember at Arizona State University (where there are no ‘speech codes’ or ‘safe zones’ like some other campuses have) there was a man who would spend full days carrying around signs that said things like, “Women shouldn’t be able to vote” and “Women who wear yoga pants are going to Hell”. I was deeply offended by some of the things he would advocate for at first, but then I noticed something. The people who would walk by him would give him foul looks, or shake their heads in distaste. It didn’t promote his message to others, it made them realize that he had terrible views that nobody would actually agree with. That’s exactly why it’s so important to allow free speech, even speech that is awful and disagrees thoroughly with human decency: it shows where people stand, and it shows how terrible those views are. It’s the same as having an idea that seems great, but is clearly bad when you hear it out loud.  Arthur Dobrin, D.S.W. states that “The beginning of real education is feeling uncomfortable.”  We can’t move forward as a society if nobody is willing to feel a little discomfort. Words can be terrible things that tear people down and advocate for horrible atrocities, but in the end, they must be allowed to go unchecked by the law. Bryce Edwards contends that political correctness reduces diversity of ideological thought and asserts that there is only one way to think of or discuss issues of race, gender, and the like.   It also has been used as a political tool to shut down the opposition by claiming that their ideas are bigoted and wrong to avoid discussing the issue. It can work well in this way, but it’s a hollow victory; making someone afraid to discuss the issue isn’t the same as winning them over. Conclusion Freedom of speech, our precious First Amendment, is sacred and should be left alone. There should be no law prohibiting what can and cannot be said by citizens of this country. Political correctness only shuts down debates that we need to have in an illogical way. It is a direct violation of a person’s rights to prohibit their speech, no matter how terrible it is. If someone is offended, nothing happens to them; they just feel offended, that’s all, and feelings are not protected under the Constitution. As Voltaire once said, “I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.”