The First Amendment gives every American the right to the freedom of speech. This right of speech gives the ability to any person to say, express, or print what he or she so chooses. It also endows the right to practice his or her chosen religion and to meet in a peaceful manner. These rights have become a staple to the basic freedoms that are enjoyed by all Americans. These freedoms, on the other hand, that are enjoyed by all Americans come at a cost. This cost has become more unclear in the recent decades with information being readily available. Some information can be construed as good, while some as offensive. The only way to ensure that America continues to enjoy these freedoms that are held so dear in the heart of its people is through censorship.
Censorship is the removal of items deemed offensive in nature from public access or view. These items include: things of a grotesque nature, violent actions, words deemed offensive by society, images or actions that are harmful, etc. Censorship takes such forms as removal of imagery from public view, omitting words from books, plays, music, etc. It might even go as far as removal of the work or claiming the performance of certain actions illegal. The debate as for what is considered harmful and what is considered offensive is more than just a personal opinion, it is a matter of socially acceptable behavior.
Everyone under the Constitution and the First Amendment has been given the right to say and express him or herself as they wish so long as it is conducted in a peaceful and inoffensive manner. So what is considered offensive? Offense can be defined in many ways. If the majority of the population is offended by an action, that action can be considered offensive. So society has established laws against performing these offensive acts. Expressing oneself through art can be offensive when the art portrays violent, sexual, or horrifying imagery. Thus, certain ratings are placed on these things to classify them for what is believed to be acceptable ages of understanding. Persons that are affected by an action or word are what give classification to the act, word, or image as offensive or acceptable inside the viewpoint of society. The higher the rate of acceptance or offense, the more acceptable the outcome by the general populace will be in regards to the material in question.
In an effort to exert the idea of remaining acceptable to everyone, humans have created a rule to guide themselves as to how he or she should act towards another human. This “Golden Rule” is universally known and accepted throughout the world and has been for millennia. Perhaps as Jeffery Wattles states in his piece on the Golden Rule “Many scholars today regard the rule as an acceptable principle for popular use… ” giving strength to the idea that this is the understood rule of the world, but goes on to say in subsequent paragraphs that“…the rule allegedly implies that what we want is what others want” (483). Hinting at the notion that what is found to be acceptable to ourselves is not ideally what is acceptable to others around us. This understanding also lends to the fact that the reverse is also true; what is found to be offensive to ourselves is not offensive to others.
Offense can therefore not be strictly defined within a single phrase or statement. What is offensive to one is not offensive to another, and what is acceptable to one is not acceptable to another. It is, without a doubt, impossible to limit the human race to a simple black and white view on idea of offensive and acceptable material, as everything is a matter of personal perspective. One’s environment, home, social setting, cultural beliefs, and own thought creates a rational assumption of what is acceptable or offensive to solely that individual.
The only way society has been able to attempt to control the offensiveness of actions or words that are potentially harmful is through censorship. A certain amount of censorship is needed to keep the general population in a mindset that best constitutes a goodwill atmosphere towards another person. The government has established laws, in a sense censorship of actions, which both government and society has deemed harmful and offensive actions illegal and those individuals that choose to not adhere to them face punishment. Just as offensive actions can be censored through laws, words or imagery that are considered to be offensive in nature by the population can be removed and/or replaced with more acceptable material through censorship.
In Article 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document in which the basics rights of man is stated for multiple nations throughout the world, it reads as follows: “In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others…” and that these efforts must meet “…the requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society”(Section 2) meaning that everyone must abide by what the government has set as the law. No man or woman is above the law and therefore in an effort to keep society respectful of one another, the government must censor material. If society and government allowed anything to be available, this information would cause unrest with those that have chosen to follow the moral, public order.
This use of censorship to control what is readily available to the general public has allowed society to progress towards a more acceptable understanding of the differences of right and wrong. Through the limitation of exposure to offensive and harmful material, censorship has created a better structured society in which there is an established public order. This public order is what has kept the First Amendment strong in the hearts of Americans. Any deviation that attempts to willing misinterpret or misuse these freedoms places them in jeopardy.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Art. 29, Sec. 2. The Arlington Reader. 3rd edition. Lynn Z. Bloom & Louise Z. Smith. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011. 488-493. Print.
Wattles, Jeffrey. “The Golden Rule – One or Many, Gold or Glitter?” The Arlington Reader. 3rd edition. Lynn Z. Bloom & Louise Z. Smith. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011. 480-485. Print.