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The Narrowing of Our First Amendment Rights

The rise of the state-level legislation around the United States is definitely a cause for concern. Our first amendment right is something that has separated this country from many others and any form of that being limited is something that should not be overlooked.

As more and more legislation is created to limit this right, it allows lawmakers to push their limits further and further each and every time. One huge topic that seems to be the driving force behind the creation of these new laws is protesting. As we learned from pen.org, 110 state bills were introduced between 2017 and 2019 that allowed for harsher penalties and sentences for protesters. The worst part about this all, was that this was greatly a result of the former President and his views and beliefs. It all felt very selective and targeted based on what his feelings were towards certain protest movements, and it almost empowered lawmakers that aligned with these beliefs to take things as far as they could. An amazing line from an article by The Atlantic stated, “The First Amendment is no good if it is used to protect one side of the political spectrum but disregarded for the other.” People like Donald Trump were calling George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protesters “thugs” but praised those who stormed the United States Capitol “good people”, and it was this sort of hypocrisy that was creating a lot of tension and divide in the country. There is absolutely a limit when it comes to freedom of expression or perhaps petitioning the government depending on how these situations were viewed. Yes, businesses and properties should not have been damaged, looted, and destroyed. But at the same time, and really a much more important scale, the United States Capitol building should not have been broken into, damaged, and destroyed. It was shocking and disappointing to see the differences in treatment for the two sides of the spectrum. Even the peaceful demonstrations in support for people like George Floyd or Breonna Taylor were met with much more force, aggression, and hostility from police than the people who were scaling the sides of the Capitol building and intimidating those who were there to protect it.

I feel conflicted in answering the second question of whether or not policy is the appropriate way of regulating free speech. I really feel like it should not be because of what I discussed in the first portion of this blog. However, the other side of me asks where the regulation would come from then if not through policy and lawmakers. I feel as though there has to be some other way to go about this issue because as we’ve all witnessed and experienced, things can be very biased and unfair when it comes to new legislation depending on those in charge. The best solution in my eyes is to create a more defined line as to what is determined free speech, expression, and petition, and what is too far. Perhaps this would prevent the ongoing number of bills being introduced as a result of protesters and demonstrations because there’d be a clearer answer as to what is acceptable and what isn’t.

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