Ambiguity And Confusion From The First Amendment

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Ambiguity And Confusion From The First Amendment Essay, Research Paper Ambiguity and Confusion from the First Amendment In the First Amendment, it is stated that: 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 to peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. These aforementioned statements ratified by our forefathers are commonly referred to as the freedom of expression. The freedom of expression is not only limited to speech; it refers to all forms of exchanging ideas: religion, press, assembly, petition, etc. In Alan M. Dershowitz’s essay, “Shouting Fire!”, he boldly claims that Justice

Holmes’ analogy of “shouting ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater” to circulating pamphlets to the public during wartime that contain political ideas against the draft is both “self-deceptive or self-serving” (Dershowitz, 328). However, shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater does not only refer to the freedom of speech, but to freedom of expression implied by the First Amendment. By shouting “Fire!”, an individual is implying alarm, and the indication of alarm will ultmately cause chaos. There is no way that a shout of “Fire!” in a crowded theater, a form of “decontextualized information” (Postman, 8), is the same as the circulation of waritme pamphlets. The idea of “speech” is not specifically defined in the First Amendment. Due to the absence of the

authors’ intention in using the word, “speech,” we are then forced to speculate on the meaning of this nebulous word. In Webster’s New World Dictionary, one will find the following: speech (spech) n. [* OE sprecan, speak] 1 the act of speaking 2 the power to speak 3 that which is spoken; utterance, remark, etc. 4 a talk given to an audience 5 the language of certain people Let us interpret “speech” according to the definition given by Webster’s New World Dictionary, then “speech” should only constitute audible sound and not also the ideas that may result from the act of speaking. According to this theory, we are then allowed to freely say anything that please us, including the act of shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater. However, we can clearly see that

this is not the intention of the First Amendment from historical evidence. It does not seem that the Supreme Court and the public view only the act of “speaking” to be protected by the First Amendment, for it is the act of expressing ideas that concerns them. Even Justice Holmes announced that “[t]he most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater, and causing a panic. It does not even protect a man from injunction against uttering words that may have all the effect of force” (Dershowitz, 325). Which then leads us to believe that it is the expression of ideas that leads “directly to serious harm” (Dershowitz, 328) to the public that acts as a violation of the First Amendment. However, each individual’s

interpretation of what may lead directly to serious harm may be different. Some individuals’ interpretations of what cause serious harm are more liberal, while others are more conservative: I may find the circulation of pamphlets containing radical political views to be quite detrimental to wartime effort, while others may find that to be virtually harmless. In recognizing that the government does indeed have the right to censor “expressions [that] may lead directly to serious harm” (Dershowitz, 328), Dershowitz implies that there is a hidden status quo, or norm, that individuals within an interpretive community use as a guideline to determine what constitutes extreme disorder. It is then left up to the Supreme Court to act as the absolute authority to set these guidelines