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  • Sue Hawley

How much would you pay for free speech?

freedom of speech, authors

As the Fourth of July approaches it brings to mind, for me at least, the Bill of Rights- specifically the First Amendment. Why the First and not the other nine? The others are extremely important but as an author the First Amendment is vital. My work, along with that of my fellow authors, is protected. The government cannot censure the storylines or character’s opinions in the books I write. Whether my books criticize the government or various religious beliefs, my work is protected. This was not always the case.

As a British colony during colonial times speech was massively restricted. At that point in history, it was a crime to criticize the government or speak in a way that was considered blasphemous. Those who were writing pamphlets for independence from Britain were considered traitors to the crown. They were taking a huge personal risk publishing their opinions. We tend to forget how much was at stake for these men and their families. If we had lost the War for Independence the authors of such material would most likely have been prosecuted and found guilty of crimes against the King. For many that would have meant death by hanging, imprisonment and deportation would have been the sentence for the 'lucky' ones.

The Bill of Rights was established to limit the federal government’s control over the population and state governments. America has grown and changed and we've fine-tuned our rights as time progresses. Today, we would never accept the premise a person could not criticize the government—many people make their living writing opinion pieces on every movement the government makes. Whether I like or dislike someone else’s opinions does not take away their right to have them or voice their own beliefs. We have the right not only to what we believe but also expressing ourselves.

Yes, there are limitations to free speech. No one is allowed to falsely yell ‘fire’ in a crowded room, child pornography is illegal (children’s rights must be protected), libel, slander, national security, and even speech in the workplace all place limits on what people can say without dealing with serious consequences. It would be unwise to tell your boss to ‘f*** off’, for example- it might cost you your job. And yet, even with those boundary lines Americans still enjoy more freedoms than a large portion of the world.

Shockingly, over 1/3 of the world does not have any form of freedom of speech. One third! I was stunned. Another third has limited free speech, while only a third has what we know as freedom of speech. Two-thirds of the world does not enjoy the freedom we so casually take for granted. Savor the fact that roughly 250 years ago men and women were willing to risk everything for the freedoms we enjoy. Consider the fact that today roughly two thirds of the world is still risking everything for that same freedom.

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