As a Journalism and Mass Communication major I am required to take a course on Mass Communication Law. In this course, we explore the American legal system and the legal definition of freedom of expression. In doing so, we examine real life Supreme Court decisions relating to the first amendment and the freedom of expression. I find this class to be incredibly interesting and it directly relates to what this blog is about and I thought it would be a nice way to start off my blog exploring cases that censor speech during times of war.
The first week of class we examined two landmark cases dealing with seditious libel. Seditious libel is when Congress or State legislatures pass laws that punish people for criticizing their own government especially during times of war. In reality, this is the government’s political weapon to silence opposition towards war, radical ideas and expressions. A brilliant propaganda strategy that boosts American patriotism and demonizes the radicals who speak out against the government.
During WWI, the Espionage Act of 1917 was established. This law stated that ay insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny or refusal of duty in the armed forces will result in 20 years of prison and $1000 fine. Then the following year the Sedition Act of 1918 was created as an amendment to the Espionage Act of 1917. The Sedition Act of 1918 created a law prohibiting disloyal and profane language causing contempt or scorn towards the federal government, constitution, flag or armed forces.
I am not going to bore you and examine all the Supreme Court cases that we studied that violated these acts. But I wanted to highlight the government’s power in curtailing freedom of expression especially during times of war. It is a scary thought. But is it necessary? Do we as citizens have the right to speak out against our government? Does oppositional rhetoric pose a threat to our national security during times of war? Should the government have the power to limit our freedom of expression in order to maintain high morale and support for our troops overseas? All of these questions have been lingering in the back of my mind ever since the class started. Since WWI, the governmental censorship has existed and it still continues even today. Is censorship necessary for our national security?