Freedom of Speech: A Right and Responsibility

As we consider how to #ForwardFreedom in 2014, we’re inspired in part by the First Amendment. It is the cornerstone of American identity, abridging the freedom of speech, among others, and has been lauded for centuries. The right to free speech buttressed our emerging nation in the 18th century, but its power did not end there. Political leaders, artists and activists alike have invoked it in the quest for justice. Most notably for our purposes, freedom of speech fueled the Civil Rights movement, enabling African-Americans and other minorities to collectively voice their demands for equality.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday we celebrate this month, exemplifies the power of speech.  He motivated millions with his words and the value of free expression was not lost upon him. In his last speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” he referenced this freedom with specific regards to an injunction on a march:

Now about injunctions. We have an injunction and we’re going into court tomorrow morning (Go ahead) to fight this illegal, unconstitutional injunction. All we say to America is to be true to what you said on paper. [Applause] If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand some of these illegal injunctions. Maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they haven’t committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read (Yes) of the freedom of speech. (Yes) Somewhere I read (All right) of the freedom of press. (Yes) Somewhere I read (Yes) that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. [Applause] And so just as I say we aren’t going to let any dogs or water hoses turn us around, we aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around. [Applause] We are going on. We need all of you.

Indeed, the “right to protest for right” is imbued in our culture, and we are guaranteed the freedom to do this through multiple means of expression: speech, press, assembly and petitions.

We believe the right to vote is often overlooked as the key ingredient in free speech.  Voting is a form of personal and political expression. We express our values, ideologies and beliefs every time we step into a voting booth. Without the right to vote, free speech could easily be compromised.  American democracy depends upon this expression, which is why the protection of voting rights – especially in light of recent attacks – is paramount to any effort to #ForwardFreedom.

Andy Goodman understood this. He, along with numerous other Freedom Fighters, stood up for African-Americans’ right to vote, and by extension, their freedom of speech and expression. We honor this bravery and commitment to freedom, especially this year, which marks the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer.

Tell us: how will you leverage freedom of speech and expression to #ForwardFreedom in 2014???

About the Author: Maureen Shaw is The Andrew Goodman Foundation’s Marketing Coordinator, where she leads the organization’s social media, marketing and public relations efforts.