Freedom of speech, also known as freedom of expression, can be defined as the freedom to express oneself without censorship. The freedom of expression is considered as the core or cornerstone of all the democratic rights and freedoms. This is because it formed the basis of all other human rights, since it was in existence before any other human rights were put into practice. As a human right, freedom of speech is now recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, under Article 19 of the declaration. The right to freedom of speech is also recognized in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, under the international human rights law.
The right to freedom of speech is considered an important aspect of democracy. If citizens of a nation have the freedom to express themselves, seek, receive and share information, then they are able to take an active role in the leadership of the country. This is so because the freedom allows them to make informed decisions and wise choices especially when they are electing their leaders. This ensures accountability and democracy on the part of citizens. Countries that practice democracy are usually peaceful and do well economically.
For the above reasons, strategies and efforts have been put in place to ensure that all citizens know and understand their rights, and that they are also able to exercise them. Special strategies and mechanisms are being executed to give citizens more opportunities to fully express themselves without having to hold back anything in fear of possible consequences. Also, most constitutions have sections that protect the freedom of speech and expression, for example the American Constitution.
According to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to their own opinion and also a right to express it without any form of interruption. The article further states that everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This means that one has the freedom to search, receive, and give information and ideas, via any form of media. According to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the right to freedom of speech and expression carries with it certain responsibilities. These are restrictions meant to prevent people from manipulating the freedom to offend others, by protecting their reputation and national order. The limitations vary depending on the laws of the individual country.
In the United States, the freedom of speech is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. This is reinforced by the many state constitutions, as well as state and federal laws. However, there are restrictions to the freedom to prevent defamation, incitements to riots, harassments, and any other vice in relation to the freedom of speech and expression.
Despite the right to freedom of speech and expression, a number of incidences that go against what is stated under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have been reported. A good instance of this is when individuals or companies post false advertisements on products and services that they are selling. Advertisements fall under the commercial type of speech. This vice is referred to as deceptive advertising. The Federal Trade Commission defines deceptive advertising as being the use of false statements to persuade potential customers to buy the particular product or service.
False advertisements are likely to have hidden information or charges. It would be very tragic if an advertisement only gave positive information on the product in highlight, especially medical products. Advertisements are supposed to give all the information that would be crucial or would determine a customer’s choice.
The Federal Trade Commission is responsible for the regulation of advertisements. In the chance that an advertisement gives false information, the commission is supposed to take action to protect the consumer of the product in question. This is done to protect consumers from being persuaded to purchase products that may cause them harm. However, concrete evidence is needed to prove an advertisement as being false, but no evidence is needed to prove an advertisement as being deceptive. Again, advertisers have various strategies of persuading their clients to purchase their products. Most of these strategies may be deceptive but sadly, concrete information or facts would be needed to prove the advert as being deceptive, or the information from the advertisement as deceptive. This is in accordance to the advertising laws of the commission. False advertising is not only illegal in the United States of America, but in many other countries as well. Hence, false advertising is a form of breach of the right to freedom of speech and expression in that the advertisers use their right to freedom of speech to give false information or hold back certain facts that the customer needs to know before purchasing the said product or service.
Another aspect that relates to the freedom of speech and expression is banning the citizens of the United States of America from burning the American flag. The American flag is among the most important symbols, and for this, it is associated with a lot of emotion as compared to any other symbol in the state. Many incidents have been reported where the American flag has been torn or burnt in a bid to protest something. The burning of the American flag is referred to as the desecration of the American flag. Whenever citizens do not agree with the way affairs in their country are being run, or are not in support of decisions made by the government, they may choose to show their disapproval by burning the American flag. Desecration of the American flag by burning is deemed as an insult to the national pride of the state .On the other hand, it illustrates that Americans have the free liberty to express what they feel.
The American constitution does not view burning of the American flag as being an illegal act. Several attempts have been made to make the act of burning the flag illegal. In 1884, Gregory Lee Johnson was charged and convicted with the crime of desecrating the American flag by burning it. This case was overturned by the Texas Court of Appeal and was issued to the Supreme Court in 1989. The Supreme Court cleared off the charges and upheld that burning the flag was only a form of freedom speech.
Further on, the Congress passed a Flag Protection Act in 1989, stating that anybody that mutilates or defiles the American flag in any way commits a criminal offense. The 1990 Flag Protection imposed bans on acts of desecration of venerated objects, especially the burning of flags. This was not taken well and several protests against the act ensued.
Other attempts to stop the burning of the American flag include campaigns such as the Patriotic Act. This was a campaign initiated with the motive to limit the freedom of speech and expression of the citizens by making illegal the desecration of the American flag. All these efforts proved vain. Besides that, the Supreme Court dismissed the Flag Protection Act in 1990 and stated that burning of the American flag is a symbolic speech protected under the First Amendment of the American constitution. So trying to ban the people from burning flags as way of expressing what they felt would be limiting their right to freedom of speech and expression.
The fact that the desecration of the American flag by burning is not considered illegal by the American constitution leaves it to the citizens to decide on how to express their opinions on political affairs in the community. It is also important to note that burning of the flag shows that the citizens have the freedom to express themselves without any fear. On the other hand, burning the flag is like an insult to the country and the patriotic American citizens would be offended by the act. It hence is up to an individual to decide on whether it is right to express their feelings or pass a message to the government by desecrating important national symbols such as the flag.
Despite the fact that imposing bans on flag burning would be a breach of the right to the freedom of speech and expression, efforts are still in place to try and amend the American constitution, so as to make illegal desecration of the American flag by burning. It is unfortunate that this effort is being taken as a way of earning a stable position politically, as those who are in support of constitutional amendments want to be deemed as being patriotic citizens of the United States of America. It is also unfortunate that making illegal the act of burning the flag as way of expression would portray the United States of America as not being a democratic state. This would be contrary to the common knowledge that America is a country that safeguards all the rights of its citizens.
Being an important symbol of democracy, freedom, and unity, the flag should be treated with a lot of respect. It should be protected since it stands for the heritage and history of the state. Flag burning should hence, not be used as a form of protest, or way of expression, as that is simply an insult to the object and the country. Standards should be set on how a flag should be handled to ensure that it is given its due respect. For instance, burning of the flag, using the flag as a piece of clothing, or anything else that reduces the flag to being just like any other fabric are not respectful ways of handling the flag.
In conclusion, the right to freedom of speech should be held, since it is the most basic of all human and democratic rights. Constitutions should be amended in a way to protect the freedom, and not to impose bans on it. The political leaders should take it upon themselves to teach the citizens on the importance of symbols such as the flag, so as to protect it from incidents such as desecration by flag burning. Citizens should also take time to consider other options of expressing what they feel, other than resulting to shameful acts such as burning of flags. Flag burning should be discouraged in all ways, though not made illegal, as this would be like imposing limitations to the right of freedom of speech and expression. On the other hand, stringent measures should be taken against deceptive advertisers. If this is not done, a lot of lives would be put at stake. The Federal Trade Commission should therefore not take it easy on anybody proven to be violating the right to freedom of speech by giving false information in their advertisements, or making their advertisements deceptive. A good control measure would be setting up a system that would check all the advertisements before they are released for people to view them.
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