The Changing Nature of Our Freedoms
The freedoms of religion, speech, assembly and of the press that were set down by the founding fathers of change in the history of our country in their scope and in the limitations imposed upon them. The freedom of religion has had limits put on it in the case of separation of church and state. In order to allow all to have their own beliefs, the government has put restrictions on school prayer and by not giving federal funding to religiously-based institutions. The once close relationship between church and state have now been established as separate (Clark, 139).
Freedom of speech and assembly has been through many battles since it was first outlined in the Constitution. Battle lines have been drawn in past decades over such issues as the right to burn the flag, protest and where people are allowed to exercise their freedom of speech. During the time of the McCarthy hearings in Congress, people were often afraid to speak out against the government for fear of being targeted as a communist. Today, free speech has also been threatened by the Patriot Act. People’s private information is targeted by government mandate for screening for certain phrases that may belie terrorist intent (Konvitz, 2003).
Freedom of the press was established so that the government would not control local newspapers. This has been greatly challenged many times over the past century as the technology of the press has seen the advent of the Internet, television and the computer. The creation of the Federal Trade Commission to oversight media has led to the labeling of shows on television with ratings and fines have been imposed for what was considered inappropriate. This happened recently when, during the Super Bowl, Janet Jackson flashed her chest on national television. Radio show hosts and television stations have been fined for cursing and other inappropriate material.
The Patriot Act also has led to the government abusing the power of denying individuals deemed as terrorist suspects the right of due process. Many of these people have been held for extended periods of time at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba without adequate representation or their rights under due process. Government officials under the same act have also been given greater leeway in using search and seizure in regards to a suspect’s home and/or personal property (Uniting).
These limitations on personal freedoms have in some cases been necessary and in others have been taken too far to the point of abuse by the government. These freedoms must be revisited periodically as must the laws which limit them so that proper oversight is given to protect them.
Clark, Henry B. Freedom of Religion in America: Historical Roots, Philosophical
Concepts and Contemporary Problems. Los Angeles: Transaction Books,
Konvitz, Milton R. Fundamental Properties of a Free People: Religion, Speech, Press
and Assembly. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 2003.
“Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to
Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT ACT) Act of 2001.” The Library of Congress. 4 May 2010 http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d107:hr03162:]