Political Column: So Much for Freedom of Speech

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Daniel Caccavale

America is the land of the free, or so we are told. The First Amendment guarantees all Americans five freedoms—speech, press, religion, assembly, and petition. As far as religion goes, you are free to practice as long as you don’t break any other laws. For example, many decades ago Rastafarians, a religious group who use cannabis as part of their spirituality, were told they could no longer do so because it broke the law. Well, that’s not very free now is it? Ok, fine, maybe I can understand it; if you let a religious group use weed in their rituals, odds are there would be a major influx of people saying they were Rastafarians just so they could smoke what they want.

Freedom of press is also quite questionable. Professional newspapers such as The New York Times can publish almost anything they want as long as it is accurate.  The courts have maintained that bloggers can do the same. However, most high school newspapers are controlled by their schools to make sure the students aren’t reporting anything overly controversial or that could cause some kind of issue at the school.

Colleges, too, unfortunately, including our own LIU-Post administration, seem to have a bad habit of ignoring “freedom of the press” by not giving student journalists proper information so that certain topics can’t be covered or not covered properly. This impairs our ability to actually report stories, thus taking away our First Amendment rights. So now the guaranteed freedoms of the First Amendment are down to three, speech, assembly, and petition. The thing is freedom of speech is also not quite that free either.

Of course, the basic thing is you can’t just say things that could cause panic, for example, you can’t scream fire in a movie theater. The panic that would incite could result in a herd of people racing towards the tiny doors and could cause people to get trampled, seriously injured, or killed in the process. However, if you yell fire when there is a real fire, the same affect could occur, but that’s perfectly fine, just one of those things that doesn’t quite make sense.  You are also not free to threaten people either; this one is fair and self explanatory. So is the fact that you can’t say things that are false in court and/or could greatly harm the reputation of another person. But you can express your view of the president, even if it is negative, right? Well according to the United States military, you can’t.

If you don’t believe me, just ask Sergeant Gary Stein of the United States Marine Corps.  Sergeant Stein has recently been reprimanded by his superior officers for expressing his views on Facebook about President Obama. According to an article posted on the BBC News website on April 6, 2012 entitled “US Marine faces dismissal for criticizing President Obama,” Sergeant Stein got in trouble for putting President Obama’s face on movie posters, such as the movie “Jackass.” Ok, so this Sergeant who is putting his life on the line to defend our freedom and our country is being told he is no longer free to create fake movie posters that insult the president. If the people fighting for our freedoms aren’t free, then what in the world are they fighting for in the first place? The military has single handedly taken freedom of speech away from someone who fights for freedom. If anything, shouldn’t his dedication to our country entitle him to a bit more freedom? According to this same article by BBC News, Stein could be demoted or face an “other-than-honorable discharge” for his actions. The article also reported that Stein had been warned several times to stop these posts because they are “in breach of military regulations.” Stein, who has been a marine for nine years, says that he has his own opinions and has even gone as far as putting a disclaimer on his Facebook that says so. I personally don’t see the big deal. He warns his readers; he should have the constitutional right to speak his mind, but here we are with proof that freedom of speech is not so free.

It is still unknown as to what exactly will happen to Sergeant Stein but here is what we do know. If he is penalized for speaking his mind, we take a step in the Soviet, the Cuban, the Chinese, and the North Korean directions. If we dare to limit what we can say about our President, we might as well start calling him Dear Leader Obama. For the sake of the Constitution, the rights of the people, and our beloved freedoms, I do hope this case is thrown out. Otherwise the military has seriously cut our personal freedoms and we have a whole new set of issues to worry about.

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