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Freedom of Speech

Americans have long prized the freedom of speech assured them in the U.S. Constitution, yet they also seem to accept that there are some boundaries to freedom of speech, though what those boundaries are is controversial and may shift form one period of time to another. Freedom of speech as applied in the arts is often a source for arguments over limitations that may be placed on expression, especially with art works depicting sexual behavior, nudity, or subjects considered irreligious. Much of the debate takes place at the extremes, with absolute freedom of speech at one end and tight control and censorship at the other. While the answer likely lies somewhere in between these extremes, where one places the issue on a continuum depends on the rationale used for making such a decision.

One extreme is represented by Plato, who found that censorship was acceptable precisely because he was making this decision in terms of his view of the importance of education and of the need to shape society around the education of the young, couched in terms of stories to be told to the young::

Then it seems that our first business is to supervise the production of stories, and choose only those we think suitable and reject the rest. We shall persuade mothers and nurses to tell our chosen stories to their children, and by means of them to mold their minds and characters which are more important than their bodies (Plato 628).

Plato here indicates that the intent is to "persuade" rather than to regulate, but elsewhere he refers to the need to enforce certain ideas for the good of society:

But if a state is to be run on the right lines, every possible step must be taken to prevent anyone, young or old, either saying or being told, whether in poetry or prose, that god, being good, can cause harm or evil to any man. To say so would be sinful, inexpedient,a nd inconsistent (Plato 631).

A more current statement of this idea is offered by ...

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Freedom of Speech. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 17:41, August 06, 2020, from