Of all the guaranteed rights accorded to an individual, the right of freedom of speech is perhaps the most broad, significant and chief of all the constitutionally protected rights. An individual and his right to speech are not subject to any form of abridgment, prior restraint, censorship and interference by the government or by anyone else. The main reason why the freedom of speech is chief among the rights, especially in a democratic country, is primarily because of three things.
First of which is to discover and to preserve the truth. Only through an environment conducive for discussion can society ever adduce the truth among a mass of statements and allegations. A curtailment of the freedom of speech, in this regard, would result to the truth being lost in censorship and control of thought. Second, it is to ensure the growth of the individual as a person and as a rational human being. Suffice it said that man is inherently a social animal.
He and his thoughts thrive in the free exchange of opinion and knowledge. Such being the case, the person must be granted full protection and incentive by the state to speak out his mind and communicate to his peers without fear for penalty or censure. Third, it is so that there shall be an increase in the involvement of individuals to government affairs. In a democratic where the sovereignty resides in the people and government power emanates from them, the right of freedom of speech is thus inviolable.
People can air their grievances, propose changes or participate in the decision-making of the state by invoking such constitutional right. However, while freedom of speech is largely immutable and can not be subject to waiver or compromise, its constitutional scope is not absolute. Freedom of speech can only be regulated in certain instances where supervening government state interests are at stake. For example, the state has every right to censor and punish the obscene, riotous and seditious speech, fighting words and inciting to commit a felony among others.
In criminal law, these are a variety of offenses which are not direct primarily against individuals, but rather against the existence of the State, the authority of the Government, or the general public peace (Bouvier’s Law Dictionary, 974). This is because the state must arrest the substantial evil which the legislature has every right to protect. Even in this case, conviction for a violation of a legislative act pertaining to abridgment of the freedom of speech must pass rigorous and strict tests of the “clear and present danger” rule.
The test is whether the words are used in such circumstances, and are of a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that the legislature has the right has the right to prevent: the evilness of the utterance must be serious, and the degree of imminence extremely high. Lastly, the courts exercise careful deliberation and a more libertarian view when they decide cases on possible violations of the freedom of speech lest they transgress the noble tradition of the first amendment.