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Socially Acceptable

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Essay title: Socially Acceptable

Socially Acceptable

In our present day society there are two contending battles, one for the freedom of all speech and the other for restriction on certain types of speech. This prose will attempt to explain why free speech is necessary to our lives though, it has to be restricted in order for the harmony and stability of mankind. The people who wish for absolute freedom of speech back their argument with the First Amendment which states “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech”. This guarantees the right to any American to speak freely without fear of retaliation for their words. However, it is well known that free speech can also have a negative and even harmful effect on society through offensive speech. One way this negative effect can be determined is by using the Harm Principle.

The Harm Principle was written by John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) in On Liberty and states:

“…The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good… is not a sufficient warrant. ” (Ball/Dagger, IAI, 111)

However the controversy with this Principle is what does harm mean, and how does it relates to the definition of speech. Harm in the literal sense is any direct physical damage or bodily harm caused by an individual or accident. Yet, there can be other forms of harm such as emotional harm. Speech also in the literal sense is the act of annunciating words. However like harm, there can be other forms of speech such as symbolic speech, and artistic and visual expressions.

This is what splits up people on opposite polarities of the argument. For what can society really define as emotional harm? What one person may claim to be emotional harm such as a racial slur does not really harm them in a manner that may be physically harmful. But it does commit emotional harm that may lead a person to depression and in extreme cases maybe suicide. A few other controversial examples of speech that cause harm are threats of violence, defamation and flag desecration.

Firstly, threats of violence should not be considered harmful. As intense as these threats may get; the threats themselves do not harm people. An example of these threats of violence can be protesters or groups such as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). The KKK is as white supremacy group, which may incite violence against African Americans in their marches and protests. Yet, unless members of the KKK physically harm someone or something the police or the government will not be able to do a single thing. Hence these threats of violence are not causing any harm and should be allowed.

Secondly, defamation is the deliberate writing (libel) or speaking (slander) of false information about a person or corporation. When a person commits libel or slander it is with the intent of ruining that person’s reputation. Even though this is an act of free speech should be considered harmful. Here is why: suppose a politician is running for office, and his/her rival owns a newspaper company. This newspaper publishes false information such as the politician was having an affair with his secretary. This scandal then causes the politician to lose and allow his rival to win the race. Therefore, because of the defamation, the politician that lost had his reputation and image in society ruined. Though proponents of free speech may say that the first politician had the same right to defame his rival, the way he was defamed. However this sort of behavior of behavior will only perpetuate a long cycle of tit-for-tat insults and will only reduce the progressively low trust in government. Also referring back to Mill and his Utilitarian principles, this type of action does not lead to the “greatest happiness for the greatest number” (Ball/Dagger, PIDI, 67). If neither of them had defamed either, the first politician’s family may still have remained happy and his political career would not have been ruined.

Thirdly, is the symbolic gesture of burning the American flag. Many protesters burn the flag as a symbolic gesture of their disgust over things such as America’s foreign policy. It is hard to imagine why this form of symbolic speech would ever by considered harmful to individuals and merit an anti-flag burning amendment.

One case that went to the Supreme Court was Texas v. Johnson (took place in 1984, court case 1989). In this case Gregory Lee Johnson was opposing a Republican convention and resorted to burning the flag of the US as a sign of protest. He was convicted, but appealed and the case went to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court then sided with Johnson, and upheld flag-burning in a 5-4 verdict using the 1st Amendment to justify it.

In order to consider whether flag burning is

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