"The American people simply do not understand that the freedom of thought and expression means equal freedom for the other fellow, especially the one with hated ideas" -Leonard Hand (Tedford 31). The First Amendment to the constitution guarantees the right to free speech. Unfortunately, some individuals have used this right to protect themselves from litigation when they use or produce ethically questionable speech and materials. The government has attempted to intervene through passing laws and imposing regulations. The problem with placing restrictions on free speech is the question of what is and is not appropriate and what is not, and who will make this decision. Americans are divided on the two positions of the issue: 1) protect free speech even though some people abuse it or 2) freedom of speech does not outweigh the need for ethical principles. Free speech has its roots in our U.S. constitution; however, essential free speech is it has been repeatedly challenged, ever changing the legislation regulating free speech. Today, Americans have developed a distinct position toward freedom of expression.
Since the early history of our country, the protection of basic freedoms has been of the utmost importance to Americans. "Although First Amendment jurisprudence is almost entirely a creation that began in the 20th century, common law protection for freedom of speech began much earlier, in the 18th and 19th centuries. The trial of printer John Peter Zenger in 1735 was a landmark in the development of common law protection of free speech. In the Zenger case, a New York jury overturned a verdict of "not guilty" on a charge of seditious libel--in contrast to the practice in England where juries were permitted only to decide whether the defendant printed allegedly libelous words. As a result of the precedent set in the Zenger case, and the reluctance of juries to support prosecutions for seditious libel, the common law of seditious libel in America became generally unenforceable" (Linder 1&2).