Quote of the Week: Spring 2017, Week 7

If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.
George Washington

 About freedom of speech: Freedom of speech is one of the most basic American rights.  It includes the right to criticize government officials, protest government policies, and generally express oneself. The Constitution, the document that describes how the U.S. government is structured, protects this right, along with other important freedoms: freedom of religion (the right to practice a religion or not), freedom of the press (the right to publish information, even if it’s critical of the government), and freedom of assembly (the right to meet peacefully in public in a group). All of these are “First Amendment freedoms”, included in the First Amendment to the Constitution.

  • Explain this quote. What did George Washington think would happen if we no longer had freedom of speech?  
  • Why is it important for people to be able to speak and write freely, and to be able to hear and read different points of view? In countries where freedom of speech or press is not guaranteed, what can happen to people who criticize the government?
  • In the U.S., there is a long tradition of people using freedom of expression -- both in speech and in writing -- to try to bring about a change. Can you give an example of a successful attempt, either recently or in U.S. history, to change a government policy or action that involved speaking, writing, and/or demonstrating?

Branches of government: The creators of the Constitution wanted to prevent one part of the government from becoming too powerful, so they organized the government into three branches -- Executive branch (including the President, Vice President, and cabinet departments); Legislative branch (Congress: the House of Representatives and the Senate); and Judicial branch (the courts). The idea is that the three branches each have separate powers and can limit each other with a system known as “checks and balances,” so no branch can overpower the others. This infographic summarizes the roles of the branches. Many other countries have borrowed this idea from the U.S. Constitution.