Free speech and the racial divide in America

| October 12, 2017

By S3 Thomas

Tensions continue to rise over race in our great nation or has it always been there and it only recently has become a recognized cry in mainstream America? Could that be due to the fact that social awareness is more prevalent now than ever? Could it be that so many of today are of multi races and the adults of these children are speaking out? Maybe it’s because our president has helped bring it to the forefront unwillingly? For whatever reason, the conversation is being had. It is a good thing that it is being discussed.

Let it be known LOUD and CLEAR, I am NOT a lawyer nor do I profess to be a lawyer or hold an expertise in the field or any related field even closely resembling the law. I simply had a natural curiosity to get a deeper understanding of what was happening in our world and why there so many opposing sides and views. While talking with different people, I realized that there are as many different interpretations of what our rights are as Americans as there are people themselves. People often cite this Amendment that Amendment, or say this or that is in our against the Constitution but they could not quote or truly explain the full meaning. Most times, they could reference only excerpts of the laws they were trying to quote and often jumbled the information with other things. I then questioned, why? That in turn led me to reevaluate the Bill of Rights, particularly the 1st Amendment.

(Here’s a warning to all who that are in discussion: Educate yourself  and understand what free speech is and be responsible for your own actions.)

Amendment I (commonly referred to as the 1st Amendment) of the Bill of Rights within the Constitution of the United States of America passed Sept. 25 in 1789. The 1st Amendment 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.”

Though many of us are able to read these words, are we truly able to understand the meaning? If we do not truly understand the meaning then, how can we properly practice this right and confidently hold our heads high come what may legally?

There are five specific areas that the 1st Amendment covers. The first is religion. The subject of religion includes two separate ideas: the creation of laws pertaining to religion (also known as the Establishment Clause) and practicing of religion (also known as the Free Exercise Clause). The Cornell Law School web page explains that “The Establishment Clause prohibits the government from passing legislation (laws) to establish an official religion or prefer one religion over another. It enforces the “separation of church and state.” The page goes on to explain that the Free Exercise Clause prohibits the government, in most instances, “from interfering with a person’s practice of their religion.”

The second and third are freedom of speech and freedom of press the (same rules and explanation apply to both). The freedom of speech is often lumped together with the freedom to assemble—probably because to assemble may in turn directly result in speech usage—despite the fact that the authors found that they were of such importance and quite different that they name them individually. For our purpose here, they will remain separate as they are in the Constitution via the Bill of Rights so that they may be defined and given explanation.

Further information on the Cornell site states:

“The right to freedom of speech allows individuals to express themselves without government interference or regulation…so long as it is truthful or based on an honest opinion, and such statements.”

Brace yourself. This may shock you: This freedom can be limited legally “if it may cause a breach of peace or cause violence. On March 3, 1919, in Schenck vs. United States, 249 US 47, the Supreme Court ruled “words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.” (Cornell Law School web page.)

The fourth and fifth piece work hand and hand. They are freedom to assemble and the Right to Petition. According to Cornell Law School J.D. candidate Tala Esmaili, “The right to assemble allows people to gather for peaceful and lawful purposes. The Right to Petition the government for a redress of grievances guarantees people the right to ask the government to provide relief for a wrong through the courts or other governmental action. It works with the right to assembly by allowing people to join together and seek change from the government.”

Now that we hopefully have a common and deeper understanding of what our rights are, Frost would like your thoughts on the sports “protest,” th Charlotte South Carolina issue, President Trump’s stances and the racial divide and the role of free speech in addressing these issues? How can we make a change that is needed? Have actions up to now helped things or hurt them?Email us at and use the subject title “Racial Divide.”

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Category: Community, Courts and Justice, Government, National, Opinion

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Frost Illustrated is Fort Wayne's oldest weekly newspaper. Your Independent Voice in the Community, featuring news & views of African Americans since 1968.

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