Our country was founded on the belief that it is every mans right to express hisbeliefs. Who are we to decide if another persons ideas are out of line. We can not nowgive in and let our government tell us what we can and can not think. Fuck the Draft …these simple, and to some, offensive words landed a man, Paul Robert Cohen in jail afterwalking down the corridor of the Los Angeles Courthouse. In 1971 this man wasarrested under the penal code 415 for malicious and willful disturbance of the peace. Iask you today.
Would you find a man, who had done nothing to offend anyone in thecourt house, by his actions or speech, guilty? I challenge you to consider this as youlisten to the events that took place February 22, 1971. Paul Robert Cohen s constitutional rights to freedom of speech were violated. The first amendment states, Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment ofreligion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, orof the press; or the right of people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Governmentfor a redress of grievances.
This means that Paul Robert Cohen is fully protected fromjudgment and interference from the government by the constitution. First of all, we should look to see if what he did was truly disturbing the peace. Since he was not being vocal about his opinions and instead had only written them on hisjacket it is easy for offended people to just look away from the words. This means thatCohen is sending his message only to those willing to read it. Though his words areharsh, some may agree that these words are needed to send out his extreme feelingstoward the draft during the Vietnam War.
The word Fuck may be distasteful to somepeople but it is said that one mans vulgarity is another mans lyric. Secondly, the public is allowed to express itself. As Mr. Justice Frankfurter wasquoted saying, One of the prerogatives of American citizenship is the right to criticizepublic men and measures–and that means not only informed and responsible criticism,but the freedom to speak foolishly and without moderation. (end quote) Because it isimpossible for government officials to make distinctions in the area of proper word use, he Constitution gives the individual the power to distinguish what is in good taste.
Maybe it is true that Paul Robert Cohen s words and median were chosen poorly, but hehas the right to express himself in anyway that he feels is appropriate as long as it is notviolent. This leads us to the fact that, if the government has the ability to ban certainwords, it runs the risk of suppressing ideas. If given this ability, the government maycensor certain words to ban the expression of unpopular views. We have to allow viewsthat we don t agree with to be said as well as the ones that we do agree with.
We mustaccept the benefits and consequences of this freedom. There seems to be very littlesocial benefit when comparing the risk of censorship and the suppression of ideas andbeliefs. It is obvious that Cohen stood as no real threat to the peace. He meant for thewords written on his jacket to inform others around him how he felt about the draft, andthe Vietnam War. He did not threaten anyone, nor did anyone threaten him because ofhis jacket. He made no disturbances or loud noises prior to his arrest.
An arrest that wasbased on the idea that he had a tendency to provoke others to acts of violence or to inturn disturb the peace. As we have seen, Paul Robert Cohen was arrested under the unconstitutionalcircumstances. His rights to freedom of speech were violated. He was in no waydisturbing the peace. And though he might have been foolish to choose the words he did,he has that right and should not be suppressed. I believe J. Brandeis sums this all upwhen he said, The constitutional right of free expression is a powerful medicine in asociety as diverse and populous as ours.
It is designed and intended to removegovernmental restraints from the arena of public discussion, putting the decision as towhat views shall be voiced largely into the hands of each of us, in the hope that use ofsuch freedom will ultimately produce a more capable citizenry and more perfect polityand in the belief that no other approach would comport with the premise of individualdignity and choice upon which our political system rests. (end quote) This means thatwe are allowed to speak as we wish, without fear of oppression. This allows freethought, without which we would not be where we are today.