non-Americans, what do you think of our First Amendment?

Recently I heard someone refer to non-Americans not understanding why many of us take such an absolute stance on free speech. I have no idea how true this is, so I’d like to take a poll.

Non-American dopers, how do you feel about the right to free speech? How far does it go? How would you feel about someone burning your country’s flag? What about hate speech?

I’m cool with the way America treats freedom of speech. There are reasons why f.o.s. is slightly restricted in my country: for example, bringing the Hitler salute is illegal, as is selling “Mein Kampf”. I’m sure it’ll be different 100 years from now, but for now, those restrictions make sense to me.

You can burn my country’s flag in my face, and I won’t care. I’ve never quite understood the obsession with a little rag that’s used as a means of identification in international sporting events. I like my country, but I can take no pride in it - you take pride in accomplishments, not chance (i.e. being born here was luck, or misfortune, depending on how you look at it). Since I’m not personally “proud” of my country, you can burn the flag or criticize it all you want.

Hate speech? I can see how some countries decide to put a legal framework in place to limit hate speech. My country does, and it makes sense.

Generally, I’d agree with Coldfire. The way America treats freedom of speech as a very precious thing is pretty cool, but I’d be inclined to put the brakes on dangerous speech at some point before the average American would. It’s the “yelling FIRE in the crowded theatre” analogy.

I’ve never seen an Australian flag burned. I don’t think it would fire me up into fits of unfettered rage, but I wouldn’t be quite as cool with flag-burning as Clogboy is. I find it offensive for any nation’s flag to be burned. It’s also stupid in that it implies a certain respect for the perceived enemy. If, for example, I found a flag Nazi symbols on it, I wouldn’t burn it. I’d just quietly throw it away.

A flag is a piece of material. I don’t see the big deal.
OTOH, if you see your flag as representing part of you and someone is trying to destroy part of you by burning the flag then maybe you have the right to feel put out.
I don’t see the flag a representing me. I feel more individual than being represented by a bit of material

On the issue of free speech, I am a person capable of forming my own opinions and whether what you are offering in your words are good or bad, let me make that call, but don’t restrict someone from saying it.

What is hate speech? IMHO, it’s someone making an arsehole out of themselves, but I would defend to their death their right to say it. Not all of us have the same opinions and whether you think their opinion is right or wrong, what right do you have to stop them.

You can’t stop me from thinking what I think, so say what it is you want to say.

It’s an impressive piece of legislation, but I wish Americans would realize that the prohibitions only apply to the government, and that a newspaper’s decision not to publish your letter to the editor singing the praises of poodle hunting is not practicing censorship or violating one’s civil rights.

About the flag burning…

I know its only a bit of cloth, and I don’t like the Aussie flag much anyway, but its the STATEMENT that is being made by burning it which gets my goat.

A couple of years ago, the current Japanese Emperor visited England. He has apologised previously for the atrocities committed during WW2 (its the government that hasn’t). But even so, some old English POW’s burned the Japanese flag when he was there.

I was extremely shocked and upset. In my mind, I don’t care how mad you are about something, that is the equivalent of setting someone’s house on fire; there is no need to go that far. I mean, how would those English men have felt if a Japanese person set light to the Union Jack? They would be LIVID, I bet.

If the Aussie flag eventually gets changed to something which represents all Aussies, regardless of cultural or racial background, I would have to be restrained from seriously damaging a person who would dare to burn it. Its just plain wrong.


But, TheLoadedDog, at the risk of sounding like Justice Hugo Black (a personal hero of sorts), we already do have limits on free speech. If it is deemed dangerous, it is against the law. As is slander and libel.

Anyway, I’m much more liberal than most of my fellow Americans and tend to agree with Oliver Wendell Holmes that the only reasonable limits to the freedom of speech are those that show that said speech presents a “clear and present danger.” Damn. Sorry, didn’t mean to be pedantic, I just meant to mention that we don’t actually have total freedom of speech in Merkia.

I am uneasy about the whole Bill of Rights approach, because it leaves the protection of the rights in the hands of the judiciary. Your system allows populist politicians to float, promote and even enact legislation clearly against those rights in the belief that the Courts will clean up their messes and that they themselves can collect the votes due to those who attack unpopular speech. There seems to be a constant barrage upon free speech and other freedoms by the elected and by much of the populace with only a distant and appointed court to defend. If (as Voltaire believed) law lives in the hearts of men, I don’t think this bodes well for rights.

That being said, recent political history in Australia has lessened my opposition to Australia having such a Bill.

You make a very valid point, Hawthorne, which is the real downside of judicial review. Opponents of the recently-passed campaign-finance reform (I count myself one of them) know that the President who signed the law, and many Senators and Representatives who voted for it, believe it facially unconstitutional but count on the Supreme Court to save them from themselves. A similar case can be made for the Defense of Marriage Act, which seeks to ban gay marriage but is unconstitutional under at least three different theories that have solid Court backing. (Clinton signed it to save himself embarrassment before the '96 election, but reportedly said he thought it completely unconstitutional.)

When you understand that members of all three branches of our government swear oaths to defend and preserve the Constitution, it’s a bit depressing.

I should point out that I’m not an expert in any field applicable to this discusion. However, I can offer an opinion based on my hobby study of history and legal systems.

The American Bill of Rights was probably originally influenced by English laws (especially “The Petition of Right”, 1628 CE and “Bill of Rights”, 1688 CE), so it’s not surprising that many of the ideas enshrined in the Bill are present in Common Law (which most of the Commonwealth bases their legal systems on). Consequently, our freedom of speech is not substantially different from that of Americans. However, the veneration with which U.S. Constitutional law is treated makes it much more front and centre, and I suspect, much less subject to erosion or abuse.

I’m no expert either - but one thing I have noticed is that Americans tend to think that they’re the only “free” nation on earth. This gets my goat sometimes. There are plenty of things it is illegal to do in the US that you can do elsewhere, and vice versa.
There are other places with freeeom of speech, you know.

I think Americans should actually read the Constitution and the Bill of Rights once a year at least. Not to hijack the thread, but what irritates me is that many Americans and non-Americans believe that the Declaration of Independence is a legal government document. It’s not.

Not entirely sure if this is aimed at me or at Americans in general, but: yes, I do know that. A few days ago I heard a Canadian say she didn’t understand why Americans took such an extreme approach to free speech, and I wanted to see if most non-Americans felt that way.

Non-American dopers, how do you feel about the right to free speech? How far does it go? How would you feel about someone burning your country’s flag? What about hate speech?
I feel to lazy to enter in a free speech debate. Very rougly, here, there are some limits to free speech : some forms of hate speech (“incitment to racial hatred”), denial of the holocaust, some things related to nazism. I understand laws about “obscenity”, for instance, are more lenient than in the US, on the other hand. Both systems make sense and can be justified. For obvious reasons, I feel more confortable in my own legal system.

As I wrote in another thread some months ago, the “religious” respect american people have for their “sacred book”, the constitution and their “prophets” ,the founding fathers is very surprising.

I couldn’t care less about someone burning the flag. People don’t own flags, here, let alone put them in their gardens or on their cars. There are no laws preventing you from burning the flags, but it’s not done, either, probably because extremely few people would care. The flag isn’t a huge and important symbol. Overt patriotism tend to be frowned upon, usually, anyway,because it’s associated with the extreme-right, WWII fascim, etc…

I don’t believe that the examples you cited above should be limited, or excluded, from free speech. How else are you to identify the idiots? :stuck_out_tongue:
Not only that, but if you don’t allow people to express opinions that are in the general consensus wrong-headed, where does that stop? One snowflake becomes an avalanche.

The thing that gets me about the first amendment is that since the clear and present danger test can be applied to show that speech isn’t protected, it basically does leave the door open to all kinds of abuse. But that’s politics for you: you’re screwed either way you go.

The government can promise citizens all kinds of rights, but it doesn’t have to keep that promise, because if it doesn’t, who will stop it, really?

To Americans the Flag represents the Revolution that has brought so much of the world Freedom. Our Religous fervour is what protects from assults aganst our freedoms. It looks like we may soon lose the two greatist chalenges to the Idea of Freedom,the income tax and the war on drugs. The only more importaint than The Republic is that the Idea that Humans should live Free survives The Republic. This is why we get so upset when someone burns our Flag but defend the right to do so.

The government can promise citizens all kinds of rights, but it doesn’t have to keep that promise, because if it doesn’t, who will stop it, really?[/color]

That would be a thread about the second amendment not the first. If you don’t believe that an armed population can overthrow a government, just look at what an unarmed people did in '89 aganst the government with the largest army on the planet.

Can you display man-sized pornographic pictures in full view of the by-passers on your lawn? If you can’t it seems to me it’s because it’s wrong according to the general consensus. Where does that stop?

It stops where the general consensus, the courts, etc…think it infringes on other people’s freedom, defined by… the general consensus.
The difference is that my the general consensus in my society is that stating publically “kill the [racial group X]” or “the [racial group X] are retards” infringes on the right of the members of the group X not to be insulted, libelled or threatened. Perhaps the general consensus in your society is different.

Sure, following your “where does that stop” our government could decide tomorrow that all speech criticizing the party currently in power is forbidden. So could your own government. If public display of pornography or libel is forbidden in your country , what prevent the government from banning all freedom of speech? Probably the same things which prevent our to do the same. The constitution or constitunional principles arguably play a part. But what would be the value of this piece of paper if it wasn’t supported by a “general consensus”?

That’s the general consensus which is the basis of our freedoms, and prevent our governments from abusing their powers. Nothing else. If tomorrow, this consensus is that the first amendment is totally irrelevant, it will be repelled, or ignored, or interpreted in some weird and restrictive way by the courts. A constitution guarantees nothing. Consensus does.