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freedom of speech - Freddie Dorgler HIST 162/Dougherty May...

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Freddie Dorgler HIST 162/Dougherty May 5, 2008 Paper 1 . Title: “The First Amendment: Freedom of Speech” The first amendment is the first and most important of the Bill of Rights . It covers many different areas of society including freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, and most importantly the freedom of speech . This right to free speech is guaranteed to us Americans by the United States Constitution and by many state constitutions and many state and federal laws . Government criticism and advocation of unpopular ideas are generally permitted . There are however, exceptions to the general protection of our right, such as child pornography laws, the Miller test for obscenity, and regulations on advertising . The idea of free speech was not just born into American society . The original idea for American free speech is rooted in English Common Law . In the time of colonial England, speech regulations were rather restricted . An English seditious libel law, or a criminal offense, made criticizing the government a crime . The King was considered above public criticism and statements about him or his rulings could be punishable by death . An English Justice of 1704, Chief Justice Holt wrote, “If people should not be called to account for possessing the people with an ill opinion of the government, no government can subsist . For it is very necessary for all governments that the people
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should have a good opinion of it,” of his view on the importance of the seditious libel law (Wikipedia 2008) . Although England ruled over the new colonies, the English colonies had very different views on the protection of free speech . There were a lot fewer persecutions for seditious libel than in England, but other rules and regulations over free speech did exist . The strictest regulations on free speech existed over the blasphemous remarks made in a religious sense by people . A colonial Virginia governor in 1612 once declared the death penalty for a person who denied the Trinity under Virginia’s Laws Divine , Moral and Martial , which made disgraceful words and speaking badly of royalty and ministers illegal as well (Shifflett 2000) . 1735 was a major turning point in free speech in the United States . A man named John Peter Zenger was being prosecuted because he criticized the government of New York and was represented in court by Alexander Hamilton . Hamilton was able to convince the jury to disregard the law against government criticism . This case is considered a great victory for freedom of speech and marks the beginning of a greater acceptance of free speech (Linder, Famous American Trials 2001) . Hamilton, a Federalist, who favors a stronger central government helped to gain a small victory in that case for the people rather than the government .
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