Revisiting the March on Washington
Fifty years ago, the March on Washington served as the forum for one of the most iconic speeches in history, and marked an essential moment for political and social dissent in the United States.
Freedom in all forms has long been one of the main pillars on which the U.S. was built. The freedom to pursue life, liberty and happiness was an essential element of the Declaration of Independence, while the first amendment guarantees the freedom of speech and the press. However, for almost as long as these mainstays of American values have existed, so have the attempts to limit them.
The March on Washington
August marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, in which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made his iconic 'I Have a Dream" speech, which would go down in history as one of the most important speeches the world has ever heard. It advocated for the equality of all people in the U.S. and noted how the country had not yet achieved the goal to which it had set out in its conception years before.
The Washington Post explains that on a Saturday in late August, around 200,000 Americans of different races and backgrounds descended on the country's capital to practice one of their guaranteed rights as U.S. citizens – freedom of speech. They were fed up with the legislative practices throughout the country that had worked to subjugate the African American community and this march was an extremely important step in working to undo this legislation.
Some major steps have been made in the name of promoting equality throughout the country, however, in other aspects there have been strong attempts at limiting free speech on capital hill. Politico explains that a number of congressional laws could have been detrimental to free speech in the United States.
One such law sought to limit speech that was close to military funerals, in reaction to the West borough Baptist Church, which has made it a practice to picket military funerals with homophobic language. Another that sought to limit speech was known as the "Stolen Valor Act," which was drafted after someone had lied and said he received a military medal of honor, when he really had not. A third law was drafted in reaction to videos that displayed horrible acts of animal cruelty on the internet.
These laws are alarming, not because of the kind of speech they are trying to prohibit but because of the precedents they set. It is fairly safe to say that in each case, on the surface, these laws were doing a service to the greater good because of what they sought to eliminate, however, they had the potential to start the country along a slippery slope. Fortunately, the Supreme Court ruled them unconstitutional.
It is important to realize that what is considered societally "wrong" at one point in time does not always stand the test of time. Just 100 years before Martin Luther King's iconic speech, slavery was legal in much of the country. Even after that, Jim Crow laws, which were effectively legislated racism, still were quite common throughout the south. In the instances of race relations in the country, there were a number of pieces of legislation that were abhorrently legal, and it took the exercising of freedom of speech in order to rewrite their wrongs.
This is why making sure these freedoms now are still insured is so important. These laws, while on the surface were for the greater good of society, set a precedent that makes it OK for congress to say which types of speech are allowed. This goes against the exact policy that was able to make such speech that surfaced in the civil rights movement possible. For this reason, it is important, especially during the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest acts of free speech in history, that citizens' first amendment rights are still protected.