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Limits To The First Amendment Essay, Research Paper

Limits to the First Amendment The United States of America seems to be protected by a very important historical document called the Constitution. Despite the fact that it was written and signed many years ago, the American people and their leaders still have faith in the Constitution. One of the major statements of the Constitution is the First Amendment, freedom of speech. Although it is difficult to decide what is offensive and what is not, it is clear to see that songs of rape, violence, bigotry, and songs containing four letter words are completely unnecessary for susceptible minds to acknowledge. It is reasonable to say that more people listen to music everyday and for that reason, music tends to be more influential. The American people should consider the idea of censorship of music lyrics that influence violence. We as Americans, have the voice to make artists think about the harm that their lyrics can cause their listeners and possibly change their damaging style. I think it would benefit the American people to research the effects of music lyrics on people, debate the findings of the research, and discuss the consequences and possible solutions for the problem. Those who see no problem with the explicit and vulgar lyrics of today’s music use The United States Constitution to back up their rights. This very Constitution was adopted by a convention of the States on September 17, 1787 (12) and has been a ruling thumb in the actions of the United States Government. The current date is April 21, 1999—that’s 212 years later! This is where the very popular freedom of speech amendment comes into play. This Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” (www.house.gov/Constitution/Amend.html ). These words by which we live by were actually made official on December 12, 1791. My point is that these governing words have governed our lives for over two centuries, which is a long time. The times aren’t the same as they were when the Constitution and its amendments were established, so we need to reconsider some of the ideas that are not valid in today’s society. Our greatest freedom that our founding fathers left us, freedom of speech, needs to be reconsidered. Many times the Constitutional right of freedom of speech is taken too lightly in that people believe that they can say whatever they want to say when they want to say it. This is a false belief. One would think it very wrong to scream fire in the middle of a crowded building. The same goes for the lyrics of many songs these days. “Music lyrics have profound public consequences and, in many ways, the music industry is more influential then anything…” (Brownback 454) therefore, there needs to be censorship of harmful lyrics so that listeners will not be influenced by the violence that many songs are about. This does not mean that singers can not sing certain songs, it means that it is not necessary for singers to glorify violent acts or incorporate meaningless four letter words that may be repeated. It is perfectly legal to draw the line with music if it is getting to a harmful state. Today, it seems like our music is in a harmful state. Along with the argument for freedom of speech comes along the argument that people do not listen to the words and so the lyrics of songs are harmless. The simple statement that people do not pay attention to the lyrics of a song is not true. According to Albert Hunt, music puts you in a mood. He writes, “if Frank Senatra songs make people feel romantic and John Phillips Sousa makes people feel patriotic, then the obscene violence of … Marilyn Manson or gangsta-rapper Snoop Doggy Dog might encourage impressionable and troubled teenagers to feel perverted or violent,” (A23). Hunt’s article entitled “Politics & People: Teen Violence Spawned by Guns and Cultural Rot” clearly depicts a rot of culture in the United States by letting anything go because of the first Amendment. He explains, with disappointment, that our country has fallen into a hole of violence with movies, television, video games, and “the music industry is a real villain for pandering to the worst instincts of kids by glorifying sexual obscenities and bestial brutality,” (A23). Music puts us in a mood, so if we encourage more positive attitudes by music, then we may be able to influence minds to think positively and not violently. There are, though, many followers and protectors of this very important allowance. Jay Rosenthal, author of an article entitled “Music Industry should rally against NEA ruling” clearly defines his faith in the First Amendment when he turns down a decency proposition for music. He urges that “the arts community must be heard on this issue during nominating processes, with a hope that a future court will be dominated by justices inclined to protect the First Amendment,” (4). His article is clearly depicts the suffering that the art community will undergo with the decision to “take into consideration general standards of decency and respect for the diverse beliefs and values of the American public,”(15). Rosenthal is right in backing up artists for freedom of expression, but he seems to be caught up in only that issue and unconcerned about a society that is turning violent because of the strong vulgar lyrics of these artists’ songs. He needs to reconsider his thoughts and agree that today’s music is in need of censorship. To get an idea of the songs which make censorship of lyrics a necessity, we can take a look at a few popular songs that glorify violence and degrade women. Some popular rap songs have titles such as “Smack My Bitch Up” and “Don’t Trust a Bitch.” One might ask Rosenthal if he has seen these titles or heard these songs that ramble on with graphic descriptions of murder, torture, and rape. Sam Brownback, author of an article called “Free Speech: Lyrics, Liberty, and License” has a different idea about what should be done with today’s vulgar lyrics. Brownback will not interfere with the constitutional rights of people, but instead wants to get these artists to think about their works and influence them to change their lyrics on their own rather than censor them (456). Changing the minds of songwriters and performers is a good idea to begin with, but not the best idea. Brownback is trying to be the “nice guy” in this debate. He does not take into consideration that trying to change the minds of these artists is not an easy task. What would be easier is a tighter handle on what should be allowed and what should not be allowed within the music industry. Censorship of indecent lyrics is in order. Who decides what is descent and what is not? This is a very good question when considering censorship. Eric Boehlert is appalled by the idea of censorship. His full argument in an article “Culture Skirmishes” revolves around the main point that the law is vague and that it is hard to get a consensus about what is offensive (Boehlert 29). The answer to the decision of descency is not very clear, but that does not mean that Americans should leave music alone. One solution to this problem is to take into consideratioin a couple of questions with each song: 1) are these lyrics harmful to the song’s listeners by influencing violence? 2) are certain words, like bitch, necessary to make a song successful? 3) do these lyrics reflect a violent culture over all? When answers to these questions point to being harmful, unneccesary, and violent, then it is obvious that censorship should come into play. Although some will still argue that censorship is still unconstitutional, it remains a necessary component to the decline of violent influence on music listeners. Texas has the right idea with a law that was passed in June 1997. This law “prohibits administrators of state-employee pension funds from investing any of their billions of dollars in recond companies whose music ‘explicitly describes, glamorizes or advocates’ violence, bestiality, gang activity, or the denigration of females,” (Boehlert 29). This law is a good beginning to clean music that does not turn our society toward violence. There are other possible solutions though, like making a list of words that are indecent, meaning offensive to community standards. This would illiminate harmful curse words that are derogatory.

“Amendments to the Constitution.” On-line. Internet. Available: http://www.house.gov/Constitution/Amend.html. Boehlert, Eric. “Culture Skirmishes.” Rolling Stone 767 (1997): 29, 32 Brownback, Sam. “Free Speech: Lyrics, Liberty and License.” Vital Speeches of the Day (1998): 454-456. Hunt, Albert R.. “Politics & People: Teen Violence Spawned by Guns and Culture Rot.” Wall Street Journal (1998): A23. Petrozzello, Donna. “MTV to Launch Anti-Violence Effort.” Broadcasting & Cable 128.43 (1998): 66. Rosenthal, Jay. “Music Industry Should Rally Against NEA Ruling.” Billboard 110.32 (1998): 4-15.


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