The Constitution of the United States of America contains the basic rights ofcitizens of this country. There is, perhaps, no right more controversial thanthe First Amendment in the Constitution, first introduced on December 15, 1791.
The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting anestablishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; orabridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the peoplepeaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress ofgrievances”(1st Amendment, Internet).
Due to the indecisiveness of thisAmendment, arguments over the interpretation of the words written by thefounding fathers have flourished for years. One of the main arguments that hasarisen over the years is over the interpretation of what is meant by free speechand free press. While this argument has stemmed off in many directions, one ofthe most recent and heated debates is over the governments ability to censormaterial to the public. Some of the major forms of censorship occur intelevision, music, literature, and most recently, the Internet.
Censorship hastaken place in various forms since the earliest rulers existed. These earliestforms of censorship existed through a leader of some sort trying to keep hispeople from saying bad things about him. This censorship, while fairlyundocumented, has taken place in various governments throughout time in mostareas of the world. While censorship today has taken a different form in theUnited States, the same basic principles have remained the same. Censorship isbasically an attempt by the government to limit what the public sees, hears, orabsorbs. I believe that all forms of censorship are basically a violation of thebasic First Amendment right that so many people take for granted. Some limitmust be put on the ability of the government to censor any kind of communicationin the United States, or the basic rights of the people will be infringed upon.
One of the biggest forms of censorship that takes place in the United Statestoday exists in one of the largest mediums of communication we know of. Thismedium is known as the television. In 1999, it was reported that over 99% of allAmerican households have at least one television, with a majority of thehouseholds having more then one set available(Chafee, 173). This startlingstatistic is accompanied by another fact that shows the average American watches30 hours of television weekly(Chafee, 173). With this kind of participation fromthe American public in any kind of medium of communication, it is no wonder whysome people consider the idea of censorship with so much enthusiasm. However,adults have the right to view material they please, and therefore, their rightsshould remain intact. The problem that most people have with violence, sex, andprofanity on television comes into play when considering the number of childrenthat watch television without a parent or any sort of controls on their viewing.
It has been reported that 10,000 acts of media violence are witnessed in oneyear by the average American child(Zeinert, 88). One must keep in mind that thisstatistic does not include any sexual content or profanity children may view.
The American public has expressed some concern over the material their childrenview each day, and that has been the beginning and the continued push behind theneed for some sort of censorship of television. It wasnt until the dramaticincrease in violent crimes committed by children, however, that there was astrong public demand to censor the material children have access too. While theclaim that something needs to be done to at least reduce the amount of violence,sexual material, or profanity that American children view has began to pick upsupport among the American public, the means by which to accomplish such a taskhave yet to be resolved. Some argue that censorship is the only way toaccomplish such a large scale problem, but others argue that the problem startsat home. A survey conducted by the Roper Center concluded that over 50% ofparents do not monitor what their children watch at home. This figure shows methat parents are not taking the responsibility to watch their children, andinstead are just relying on television to show programs intended for youngerviewers. With the help of some electronic blocking devices, such as the V-chip,parents can monitor what their children are able to watch, without getting thegovernment involved. The V-chip can help parents watch their children even whentheyre not home. This new safeguard is the best alternative to censorship.
Since many programs are beginning to contain a rating system displayed at thebeginning of each show, parents can get a basic idea of the content of the showwithout having to sit through each program their child wants to watch. Insteadof censorship of the whole community, it would merely become an issue of parentsdealing with their children(Zeinert, 89). I believe this issue is much lesscontroversial and should help relieve the push for censorship in America. So whydo we need censorship of television when the parents, assisted by technology,can monitor what their children watch while still being able to watch programsthey would like to see themselves? The simple answer is, we dont. A secondarea in which censorship has started to interfere with is music. Music wasoriginally censored much the way free speech was. In the 1700s, New YorksGovernor Crosby attempted to keep a group of citizens from singing songs thatwent against the King of England(Chafee, 182). More recently, however,censorship of music has taken place due to explicit lyrics. Similar to the worryof violence, sex, and profanity being shown to children on television, the worryof children listening to explicit lyrics in music has caused concern. The firstreal case of this occurrence occurred when a rap group known as “2 LiveCrew” was banned from areas of Florida because of their songs lyrics(Zeinert,82). “2 Live Crew” was arrested for public obscenity, but they won theircase in the appellate courts based on the idea that it was illegal to banentertainment groups from performing or selling their act(Zeinert, 83). In 1985,the Parents Music Resource Center was the first company to put stickers oncompact discs and cassettes giving a warning of “Explicit Lyrics,” andgiving “Parental Advisory” (Chafee, 195). I feel this is the first step inthe right direction. Instead of trying to censor music lyrics, the Parents MusicResource Center is trying to inform parents what their children are listeningto. They leave the decision of what children can listen to up to the parents,instead of trying to censor the entire nation. Again, censorship seemsunnecessary, and an infringement upon the rights of citizens of the UnitedStates of America. A third area in which censorship has taken place is inliterature. Censorship in literature has increased dramatically in recent years.
In fact, from 1991 to 1994, there has been more than a 50% increase in thenumber of demands that books be banned in schools libraries as well as publiclibraries(Zeinert, 109). Some of the books being demanded to be removed fromlibraries nationwide include, Huckleberry Finn, written by Mark Twain, Forever,by Judy Blume, and The Bridge to Terabithia, written by Katherine Paterson.
These American classics have been removed from shelves due to various reasons.
Mark Twains novel, for example, has been attacked for its use of the term”nigger”, as well as its portrayal of African American slaves. “The stateoffice of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People issueda statement, Feb. 3, 1998, claiming that Mark Twain’s classic, The Adventures ofHuckleberry Finn is offensive to black students and should be banned fromclassrooms across the state” (Meyer, Internet). This kind of censorship,whether it be from public or school libraries, not only denies the authorfreedom expression, but denies the reader the ability to judge for themselvesthe contents of a book. Many children learn about racism, sex, abuse, or drugsthrough books that some libraries have banned. Without these books, somechildren will not come to conclusions about these subjects until they areencountered in the real world, and some important lessons such as trustingyourself, knowing what you believe in, and having tolerance will not be learneduntil the children are adults(Chafee, 199). It is not right to deny peopleimportant lessons in life by denying them the right to choose which materialsthey read, just because some might find it offensive. Once again, rating can beplaced on books that give parents the idea of what they are reading before evenopening the book, and so censorship is not needed, but only information. Thefinal, and probably most controversial, issue on the topic of censorshipconcerns the Internet. In the past ten years, the Internet has become one of thehottest areas of debate dealing with censorship. Once again, the majority ofconcern comes in with the nations youth. The Internet, a tool by which greatamounts of information can be found, also holds profanity, violence, andespecially sexual material. With over 60% of American households owning apersonal computer, and over 90% of children in the United States having accessto the Internet in some way, there needs to be a way to safeguard these childrenfrom harmful material(Meyer, Internet). Once again, censorship is not the way.
It is unconstitutional to censor, ban, or control any Internet sites containingsexually explicit material(Meyer, Internet). However, due to the fact that alarge percentage of the nations youth has access to the Internet, it is notunreasonable to expect some sort of control on sexually explicit material. Afterall, it is illegal for a minor to purchase pornography. In the same way,children should not be allowed to view sexually explicit material on theInternet. By the same reasoning, sexually explicit material cannot be bannedfrom the Internet, because adults have the right to purchase, and therefore viewthis material. Instead, Internet sites have been forced to at least advertisethat their site contains sexually explicit material, and that you must be atleast of legal age to enter(Meyer, Internet). This is not enough protection forthe youth. New technology, such as the E-chip, much like what can be used tohelp parents limit what their children can watch on television is now availablefor the Internet. This technology allows parents to control the type of materialtheir children can view on the Internet without censoring material for allpeople. So once again, the parents are in control of the process of censoring,and not the government. This leaves the legal issues of the First Amendment andthe freedom to speech out of the picture while still helping limit what childrensee. In 1997, President Clinton has voiced his support of such material andparent involvement, as well as stricter enforcement of laws prosecuting thoseInternet users who intentionally break pornography laws(Meyer, Internet).
Clinton has also pushed popular Internet providers such as Internet Explorer andNetscape Navigator to provide free programs with their products to allow parentsto control what their children can access(Meyer, Internet). Once again, thissteps back from censorship and violating the rights of American citizens, andsteps towards giving parents the tools they need to protect their children.
People should be able to express ideas in any type of medium without governmentregulations. All the areas that currently concern censorship have created a lotof controversy in the United States courts. Due to the nature of theConstitution, these controversies may never be fully solved. However, it isclear that censorship is not the best answer to many of the issues it directlydeals with. Instead, giving the ability for parents to control what theirchildren have access to in everyday life is a much better alternative. Not onlydoes this method refrain from infringing on the rights of citizens, but it alsoallows parents to individually choose what they see fit for their children. Thegovernment needs to continue to support such ideas as the V-chip and E-chip,that give parents control. Not only will it help keep the government out offamily affairs, but it will stop them from having to make laws that may reducepeoples rights and cause further problems.
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