The Bill of Rights Scholarship
Students from all across the USA entered essays for the Skaug Law Bill of Rights Scholarship. The winner was David Tate, of California, and all of us here at Skaug Law, PC are proud of the essay he submitted. This is our conversation with David about his essay.
And here is his powerful essay on the Bill of Rights.
The Vitality of Freedom of Expression
By David Tate
In the late 1800’s, thousands of people from all over the world flocked to the United States. Fleeing religious persecution, skyrocketing taxes, and famine, many made the long and sometimes treacherous journey because the U.S. was seen as a land of opportunity and plenty; a “promised land,” of sorts.
What was it that made the U.S. so attractive? What was so desirable about this place that people would leave the familiarity of their homeland and travel halfway across the world? What is it, even today, that makes the U.S. the biggest hotspot for immigration in the world? The answer lies in the first amendment––the guarantee of free thought and expression to every citizen of the United States. It lies in the fundamental American idea that the government serves as an embodiment of the people rather than a ruler over them.
The first amendment lays down five basic freedoms that serve as the cornerstones for American thought: the right to practice religion freely, the freedom of speech, the right to print whatever one wishes, the right to peaceably assemble or protest, and the ability to seek governmental compensation when you believe you have been treated unfairly. These are, essentially, the ‘rights’ that make us human. They are the core of the individual.
Born an American, it is easy to take these five for granted. It is near impossible to fully comprehend their value having never experienced life without them. Reflecting on history however, their importance becomes obvious. Let me take you back to Soviet Russia, between the years of 1929 and 1953. Joseph Stalin, intent on his seemingly righteous goal of industrialization and collectivization, took Russia into his iron grasp. During his 24 year reign, every single one of these five core freedoms fell by the wayside. Everything from the books people read to the songs they sung were closely monitored by the government. One wrong word––or the accusation of one––labelled you an immediate threat to the government, and arrest and execution followed. An estimated 20 million people were killed under Stalin’s socialist regime.
Tyranny and eventual collapse––these are the consequences when such fundamental human rights are stolen.
Modern day North Korea provides another powerful example of just how fundamental these rights are, and how hellish a society can become should they be sacrificed at the altar of governmental control. The North Korean Constitution protects the freedom of speech and the press in word, but practice is very different. For decades, North Korea has held a reputation of totalitarian dictators and leadership maintained through fear and absolute control. It comes as no surprise that the freedoms found in the first amendment of the Bill of Rights are largely lacking.
In fact, the freedoms of speech and the press belong solely to the government. The government does not simply refuse recognition of these rights––no. It professes to respect them, and then in suppressing them fashions a narrative which, should any individual dare to challenge, demands their silencing––typically through death, of course. The people of North Korea are fed information that the central government hand-selects, giving them no ability to think beyond the lies they hear on the radio every day, assuring them that their country is superior to all others.
With suppression of the free exchange of ideas, the truth can never emerge. It will instead be hidden, distorted, or reversed altogether by those in power. A clear look at the death tolls of totalitarian countries––Maoist China, Stalin’s Russia, Castro’s Cuba, and even the recent Venezuela–– should be enough to convince anyone that, once in power, humans are seldom inclined to give it up, or risk challenge by permitting free discussion. That is why it is so vital that the U.S holds onto the ideas laid out by the first amendment: the natural right of Americans to think, believe, and create without fear of punishment by some ever-watching eye.
This freedom of expression has created the free-thinking and progressive society that stands firm as the backbone of such a successful nation. Information is shared freely, allowing citizens to form their own views and express their own opinions. Governing powers at the state and national levels are constantly held accountable for their actions by a nation of critics. Should the government step out of line, or go against the wish of the people, it is the people’s right and duty, as Jefferson once wrote, to replace the government with one they see fit to rule them.
This constant system of accountability guaranteed by the first amendment creates a balance between the power of the government and that of the people. The government is put in place to govern, yes, but only by way of the powers vested in them by the people. Government by the people, for the people, as the Declaration of Independence states. In order to keep the U.S. a nation run by this concept of democracy, the freedoms provided by the first amendment of the Bill of Rights must be forever protected.
© 2020, David Tate