First Amendment Freedom of Speech
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The 2017 Berkeley protests organized by different groups including By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) were an abject violation of the freedom of speech as outlined in the First Amendment of the American constitution. The protests successfully stopped a speech by Milo Yiannopoulos, a controversial Breitbart editor and a self-declared Trump supporter. The protests turned violent and led to the destruction of the property thus posing significant harm to the society. In defending the protests, Yvette Felarca, BAMN’s spokesperson argued that “the protests successfully stopped the spread of hate by the likes of Milo Yiannopoulos.” However, I maintain that Felarca’s argument was fallacious since the protests prevented Milo from exercising his constitutional freedom of speech by denying him the chance to share his ideas however controversial besides presenting significant harm to others.
First, freedom of speech refers to the right that every American has to express his or her thoughts and opinions without any form of legal penalty, restraint or censorship. The first amendment, for example, prevents Congress from formulating any law that may abridge the people’s freedom of speech (Amar 55). Freedom of speech has encouraged people to have open dialogues and debates on various controversial issues and has thus contributed to the growth of the country. Milo Yiannopoulos is a controversial individual who has criticized feminism, atheism, social justice, Islam and political correctness among others. Despite his controversial stands, Milo has a constitutional right to have such thoughts and to express them.
How it works
Furthermore, his audience were students from the University of Berkeley, a college who gave birth to the Free Speech Movement in the 1960’s – thus implying that he had an eager and open-minded audience that was willing to learn and listen more. Milo simply sought to engage his audience in a peaceful deliberation in which he would have shared his ideas and left without antagonizing anyone. Those who planned the protests like Felarca censored Milo forcefully thus violating his freedom of speech. John Stuart Mill, a revered philosopher gave a strong defense for freedom of speech. In his explanation, the philosopher urged that countries should give the fullest liberty for people to freely discuss any matter however immoral (Mill 54).
The protestors in Berkeley considered Milo’s ideas immoral and a threat to the peace and stability of the United States. Unbeknown to them, the protestors denied both Milo and the group of students at the university a chance to discuss some of the controversial ideas presented by Milo. In her defense, Felarca explains that they organized a “militant protest” to prevent the spread of hate. Militant protests are combative, vigorously active, and aggressive in nature. Such protests are not legal in the United States since they violate the rights and freedom of others and always lead to the destruction of property, disruption of peace, injuries and even deaths. The court later vindicated the argument by indicting several of the arrested protestors.
The use of militant protests was yet another strategic violation of the country’s laws. The United States Constitution under the first amendment permits protests. Americans are free to assemble and picket to protest any development in the country. However, the laws do not permit militant protests given their destructive nature. Militant protests are harmful to societal peace and order. In Berkeley, the protests soon turned into clashes with different sides engaging each other thus resulting in massive destruction, property, and injuries. Supporters of such protests like Felarca ended up propagating the hate and fear they accused Milo of perpetuating.
The protestors held a defiant standpoint and expressed willingness to use violence to prevent Milo from giving his speech. The protestors did not utilize the constitutional channels to engage Milo in constructive discussions to dispel some of his ideas. Instead, they used violence and hate thereby causing immense destruction to the city of Berkeley besides disrupting the peace and order of the city. In his harm principle, Mill argued that the government can only exercise power to limit the action of a person in the society against his or her will if it is to prevent such people from harming others (O’Rourke 62). Harm in this context refers to injuries to people and their properties.
Milo did not present any harm to anyone in society. He simply needed to give his speech and initiate a discussion on various topics however controversial. Felarca and her group, on the other hand, presented real harm to other members of the society including Milo and his eager audience (Coutler 77). Moreover, the group of protestors used violence to prevent the speech – such as the torched buildings and multiple attacked people. Such actions justify the invocation of the harm principle as outlined by Mills. The police intervened and arrested the protestors thus demonstrating the use of force against the will of the individuals since they had violated their liberty and used the liberty to harm other members of the society.
Summarily, Felarca’s arguments in defense of the Berkeley riots are clearly based on false premises. As a free society, the United States should permit people to talk freely on any topic including those considered immoral by the likes of Felarca. Dialogue enables people to reason together and convince each other. Truth has intrinsic value and so when an authority or the public censors an opinion, others are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth or they lose the opportunity to grow and listen to another perspective. Free discussion is thus required to cultivate justified beliefs. Using militants simply causes harm to others and is a clear abuse of the liberties set out by the constitution. In such cases, the government must intervene to protect innocent victims of the inherent violence and to help restore law and order in society.
- Amar, Vikram. The First Amendment, Freedom of Speech: Its Constitutional History and the Contemporary Debate. Amherst, N.Y: Prometheus Books, 2009. Print.
- Bray, Mark. Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook. Brooklyn, NY: Melville House, 2017. Print.
- Bray, Mark. Translating Anarchy: The Anarchism of Occupy Wall Street. New York: Routledge, 2013. Print.
- Coutler, Ann. Adios, America: The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country into a Third World Hellhole. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2015. Print.
- Curtis, Michael K. Free Speech, ‘the People’s Darling Privilege’: Struggles for Freedom of Expression in American History. Durham, N.C: Duke University Press, 2000. Print.
- Mill, John. On liberty. New York: Longman, 1864. Print.
- O’Rourke, K. C. John Stuart Mill and Freedom of Expression: The Genesis of a Theory. New York: Routledge, 2003. Print.
- Warburton, Nigel. Free Speech: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.
- Yiannopoulos, Milo. Dangerous. Boca Raton: Dangerous books, 2017. Print.