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Yelling For Freedom


Here's a the story:

You're at the movies and someone yells "Fire!" at the top of their lungs - even though there isn't one. Everyone screams and runs out of the theater; some people fall down and get hurt.

Should the person who yelled "Fire!" be punished for this?


Reds: Lenin and Marx and Mao, oh my!

Let's think about this. Should we have the right to say anything we want, any time we want? Or are there certain times in which the government should tell us not to open our mouths?

The highest courtroom in America, the Supreme Court, faced this question in the early 1900s. The court decided that the government could take away a person's right to speak if what the person was saying was a "clear and present danger" to other people. The court made their decision in the case of Charles Schenck vs. The United States.

Charles Schenck was telling people not to become involved in World War I.

WWI had lots of support from people, but there were also some Americans who were against it. The government needed people to volunteer to go fight in Europe. They didn't like it when people like Schenck were telling people not to fight. The government passed a law called The Espionage Act of 1917 that made it illegal to interfere with recruiting soldiers.


Charles Schenck was arrested in Philadelphia, but appealed, saying that his First Amendment rights had been violated. He said that he had the constitutional right to say whatever he wanted to say.

But the Supreme Court didn't buy it. According to the court, saying bad things about the war posed a danger to the United States. Schenck spent the next six months in prison.

So this takes us back to our earlier question. Are there times when the government should be allowed to silence our voices? I can understand silencing false cries of fire. But what about real yells of protest? When you see something bad happening in your town, don't you want to say something about it?


Please email me at: stephanie@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Irene - Pancho Villa: The man, the myth, the legend
Stephanie - Speak your mind and go to prison?
Neda - "Red Emma": Madwoman or inspiration?