Social Update: The First Amendment


With the recent violence in Charlottesville, it's difficult to not get into the politics of the situation. It's all the media likes to cover. Was President Trump tough enough on white supremacists? Were both sides of the protest responsible for the violence? It's all we hear about. But there's one thing that the media really doesn't cover, and it's an issue that is at the heart of the problem that we face in the United States on a daily basis. Does the first amendment go too far? 

I know that sounds crazy. The first amendment is the base with which our country was founded on. A big reason why the original pilgrims left Great Britain was because of the repression that people faced there. While it may sound unsafe to limit the first amendment, it is a right that is almost exclusive to the United States. Obviously, there are terrible examples like Iran, Russia, and China, where the lack of the people's ability to express their own opinions really does repress the population. But there are other examples that are not as extreme. 

For example, in Germany, Nazism is forbidden for good reason. So would it really be too terrible to apply some of those principles in the United States? Who would really suffer other than white supremacists and other hate groups? The answer is nobody else. However, the problem is that once you start to push back on the ability to express yourself, when does the buck stop? What else will be forbidden once you start taking away the right for people to express their opinions? 

We see it a lot in fiction. The extremes are all covered in novels such as 1984 and The Handmaid's Tale. In 1984, repression of rights goes to the extreme by changing the words that people are allowed to use and restricting their ability to live their everyday lives. In The Handmaid's Tale, women lose the ability to use money, their identities, and then their freedom. But is that the way it really has to be?

It is my opinion that the first amendment goes too far. By giving hate groups the ability to express their hate for other races, they are restricting the right for those groups to be able to live without fear. Starting from a recent example, Ferguson, African Americans are now put into a situation where they no longer feel safe for their well being. By restricting the ability for hate groups to practice their bigotry, it is essentially enhancing the rights of just about everybody else. This country was founded because people wanted to be free. Hate groups believe that they are the superior race and they don't want minorities to be free. They are essentially making people less free, which is the opposite of what the first amendment is designed to do. 

Of course, restricting the first amendment is all but impossible. In order to change any part of the constitution, it requires, among other things, a majority vote in all fifty states. This is doubtful to occur any time soon. Even if local courts end up effectively ignoring the first amendment in cases like this and restricting the ability for hate groups to operate, the groups would have the ability to take it up to the Supreme Court, and they'd win too with the conservative majority that they hold there. 

To fight back against hate groups, it needs to start somewhere outside government. It needs to start in our education programs, in order to cultivate a tolerant and open society in the children of the future. It needs to start in our local communities, by integrating minorities and stopping decades of driving them into urban areas with limited resources and then blaming them for not succeeding. We need to stop a lifetime of discrimination in the workplace which limits the ability for minorities to earn a decent living. 

We are slowly achieving some of these things. The generation of millennials which will soon run the status quo are a lot more tolerant than generations of the past. Once they start to populate positions where they can actually make a change, like government posts, and education and healthcare administrators, we might actually begin to get things done as a society. Even the prospect of limiting the ability of hate groups to operate by legal means might not be so impossible in the future once the country is in the hands of millennials. 

It won't happen overnight and it won't happen in a few years. It's going to be decades before we can achieve true meaningful change like this. But at least in the future it is something that will be seen as achievable. The only problem is what is going to happen to the minorities that are around today, that won't see these changes come to fruition. In the meantime, while hate groups are still around, people will live in fear because the first amendment allows hate to go on. The first amendment protects the ability for hate groups to spew their backwards and bigoted ideas. 

The first amendment, like a lot of the constitution was written in a much different time when the issues were very different from the issues which we face today. It shouldn't be crazy to suggest amending the constitution, even the first amendment. There can indeed be too much of a good thing, and the first amendment is a perfect example of that.