Offensive Speech: What limitations, if any, should be placed on it?
"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 peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances" (The Constitution). The first amendment of the Constitution states that people have the freedom of speech. Plain and simple this means that people have the right to say whatever they want, whenever they want, however they want. The Bill of Rights does not address offensive speech, so, there is no way of knowing what offensive speech actually is. Offensive speech to one person could be the daily prayers of another. The freedom of speech was given to the people to protect all speech, even speech that is extreme, outrageous, and offensive.
So what limits should be placed on offensive speech? According to the first amendment there should not be any. The Bill of Rights gives Americans the right to the freedom of speech, therefore the American government cannot take that right away by labeling certain speech offensive. In the case of Cohen vs. California, Justice Harlan says people have the right to free speech and "So long as the means are peaceful, the communication need not meet the standards of acceptability" (Charbonneau). As long as the speech of one person does not directly affect another person's physical well being, then there should be no limitations placed on that speech. According to the Encyclopedia of Censorship, "The court said that some categories of speech are simply 'no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from there is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order in morality'" (Green).
How can the court decide what speech is deemed offensive? There are no facts to prove that nothing positive or valuable can come out of certain speech. It is impossible to set a standard of what is considered offensive without placing a bias of some kind. Because there is no universal definition of offensive speech, a set law regarding offensive speech is unattainable. Some might say that "offensive" speech holds no value, but something that holds no value to one person might hold much value to the next. "Either you embrace a free society and tolerate the objectionable song lyrics, bomb recipes, racially offensive remarks and nude photos, or you enact laws against offensive materials and invite the routine arrest of writers, artists, photographers, philosophers, musicians, scientists and professors" (Crowley). If the song lyrics of a musician offend ONE person then is that song offensive and not protected by the Constitution? Or if a scientist describes how to make a certain chemical reaction that could also be used as a bomb is that considered offensive or dangerous? The real question is does anything offensive, obscene, or inappropriate ever hold any value? The answer is yes, they do.
Some people in the colonies found the idea of a revolution very offensive, but there is hardly an American today that would argue whether or not the idea of a revolution was a valuable idea. Anything different or uncommon might be offensive because it threatens people's routines or what they are used to. The fact is that no reform of government and no revolution ever happened because of a popular idea that everyone agreed with. The idea that the earth was round was not formed out of a public opinion. It took one man to speak out what he thought which seemed crazy at the time but ended up being correct. So how then can the American government, the government of the freest country in the world, ban some forms of speech because it is offensive to another person? Nothing will ever make EVERYONE happy.
People must learn that to have the right to free speech they have to be prepared for someone's words that one day might offend them. No regulations can be placed on speech and also allow one to have the freedom of speech at the same time. Equality is one of the most important virtues in America. There is no difference between segregating people by their color than by their words. If the black skin of an African American offends a white person, that white person has no right to label the African American as offensive. The same is with speech Just because the speech of one person is different, it is unfair, and certainly not equal, to discriminate against the words of one person and not the words of the next because the content of their speech.
There should be no limitations placed on any kind of speech as long as it does not cause direct physical damage to someone or their property or interfere with any other freedom guaranteed by the constitution... Otherwise words are only words and there should be no law stating that certain things cannot be said. The first amendment was made to protect all forms of speech, especially offensive speech. The founding fathers knew that some speech would offend people; therefore they gave people the freedom of speech so that they could say those things without being punished. If the Bill of Rights gives Americans the right to speak, then Americans should say whatever they want to say without the fear of punishment or consequences. Every so often something great comes from something out of the ordinary.
"We cannot indulge the facile assumption that one can forbid particular words without also running a substantial risk of suppressing ideas in the process" (Charbonneau). Without free speech there is no such thing as free ideas. Or at least there is no point in being able to think anything if it cannot be said in some way. By limiting one's thought process and communication by offensive speech laws, advancements, discoveries and other such positive events may never occur. In some way or another all speech is offensive speech depending on who one asks. People are all different and no speech can ever satisfy every single one of them.
There is no way to make laws on any offensive speech if all speech is not made illegal. Some speech is offensive. All speech is free.