Rights & Responsibilities EssayIt is a privilege to live in a free society and to be able to exercise one’s rights as a United States citizen. I for one am grateful to be able to afford these privileges .
When we think of rights they can be seen in these terms, a right is a freedom that is protected. There are some rights that are very familiar to many of us such as the first ten amendments of the U.S. Constitution which are known as the Bill of Rights. The 1st Amendment of the U.
S. Constitution also familiar to many, describes the right to free speech, press, religion, assembly and petition. These are known as the five freedoms and also referred to as freedom of expression. (Judicial Learning Center, n.d.) Other rights include voting privileges for Women detailed in the 19th Amendment and the right to bear arms described in the 2nd Amendment. On the other hand as citizens in a democratic society, we also have responsibilities which can be seen as something you are obliged to do much like a duty. Some examples are participating in one’s local community, respecting laws, and paying taxes which we will explore in depth later.
First let’s delve deeper into freedom of speech. Under this right one’s verbal expressions and opinions are protected as long as they are not threatening or obscene. There is also inclusive protection, regardless if they are provocative or offensive political opinions. Let’s take a look at how free speech was exercised at an event and the aftermath. On May 3, 2015 the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) hosted a contest in Garland, TX offered a $10,000 prize for the best cartoon depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
These types of drawings are seen as insulting and very offensive by many Muslims. According to mainstream Islamic tradition any physical depiction of the prophet Muhammad, even a respectful one, is considered blasphemous. In this case the organizers of AFDI were exercising their right to free speech and did so through political satire.
This then set off a chain of events that were incendiary to some. According to Garland authorities shortly before 7pm two gunmen drove up to the Curtis Culwell Center and shot an unarmed security guard. The two men then exchanged gunfire with police and were killed. Authorities immediately locked down the center, evacuated the 200 participants at the event and sealed off large areas including a nearby shopping mall.
(The Guardian, 2015) Here we take notice that free speech is protected regardless if it is offensive to some groups or planned by political provocateurs. Another example probably more familiar would be described in Texas v. Johnson,1989. In 1984 Gregory Lee Johnson, exercising his First Amendment right, burned an American flag, in front of the Dallas City Hall. He did so to protest against the Reagan administration. Johnson was later tried and convicted under a Texas law that outlawed flag desecration.
He was given a fine and served one year in jail. His case was later reversed in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and was sent to the Supreme Court. The outcome of the case was that the Court found that Johnson’s actions were of a political nature and that state officials did not have the authority to designate symbols to be used to communicate and that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable. (Candela, n.d.; Oyez, n.d.) Another right we will explore is voting, in particular voting rights for Women.
The 19th Amendment granted Women the right to vote and was ratified in 1920. In most cases Women were denied the right to vote in the 19th Century so they begin agitating openly and publicly for the right in the late 1840’s and the early 1850’s after meetings and places like Seneca Falls in New York. During the Civil war period, Women were involved in the fight against slavery and the fight to save the Union.
After the Civil War leaders like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony thought that their fight against slavery would get them included in the Amendments like the 14th Amendment and the 15th Amendment that guaranteed the rights to former slaves however they lost. It was a devastating blow to their cause so they reorganized themselves in a long campaign for suffrage called the National Woman Suffrage Association. Sometimes they fought in the courts and they actually tried to vote. At one point Anthony was even arrested for trying to vote. Ultimately these fights converged at the beginning of the 20th Century and during the era of World War I.
Then there was a serious campaign to try to change the constitution. They held what was called silent sentinels posted outside of the White House with protest signs; many protesters were arrested and imprisoned. Eventually Women gained the right to vote in states like New York and they convinced President Woodrow Wilson to support Women’s Suffrage and finally by 1919 the Congress had endorsed, after much struggle, this proposed amendment to the U.
S. Constitution and Women began voting indiscriminately across the country in the Presidential election of 1920. (History, Art & Archives, n.d.) In this case we recognize the impact of how Women fought for their rights to vote and paved the way for all other Women to have the same right as well. The last right we will delve into is protected under the 2nd Amendment of the U.
S. Constitution. It states that a well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. It protects the rights of individuals to have firearms for personal defense. This privilege is subject to reasonable restrictions designed to prevent unfit persons, or those with the intent to criminally misuse guns or other firearms, from obtaining such items. (USCIS, 2014) The rights allowed in the 2nd Amendment has been one of the most debatable issues in recent history.
It has even led many including former President Barack Obama to desire tighter gun control, background checks, and renewed bans on assault weapons. This is in light of the Sandy Hook shooting where 18 children and two adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut were killed. Also more recently in 2017, the mass shooting of 58 people attending a country music concert in Las Vegas to date the largest mass shooting in U.S. history; overtaking the 2016 attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. There is another side to the ongoing debate where gun control measures and other gun rights supporters view restrictions as unacceptable and a violation of their Second Amendment rights. (History, n.d.
) Now that we have established what rights are let’s take a look at our responsibilities as Citizens. These can be divided into two categories there are those responsibilities that we are obliged to do such as a duty, for example- obey the law, pay taxes, defend the nation, and serve on a jury or in court. The next category of responsibilities are those that we are compelled to do such as vote, run for office, stay informed, and participate in your community. (USCIS, 2014) The first responsibility that we will discuss is paying income and other taxes honestly, on time, to federal, state, and local authorities. Although many may complain about paying taxes or some outright refuse, there is rationale for why it is so vital in doing so; it is also mandatory. The taxes we pay are funneled through different government services that are set up to assist those who are in dire need within the United States.
Some services include the education of our children, providing medical services to the elderly and the less fortunate. They also go towards funding to keep our country safe and secure. Local taxes that are collected go specifically towards the support of public schools, enforcement of code provisions, the court system, sheriff, police stations and other services that are provided locally.
(College in Colorado, n.d.)The next responsibility to be examined is to respect and obey federal, state, and local laws. Laws are the rules under which a society or community is governed. Everyone who lives in the United States, regardless if they are citizens or not, must obey Federal, State and local laws. Laws are designed to keep our country orderly and safe.
If there were no laws to follow or if they were not obeyed there would be chaos and discord. We could not function in a society with no order. How could businesses thrive if their merchandise was constantly being stolen and they had to repair for damages due to break ins? Also if there were no traffic laws to follow, it would be dangerous everytime one stepped into a vehicle for fear that an injury could occur; since there was no system in place for which side of the road to drive on, whether or not a seatbelt is required and no traffic signs to assist the flow of traffic. In our society we also have the assistance from Police Officers that ensure that these laws are followed as well as dutifully protect their fellow citizens from harm. If a person breaks a law there is a penalty or punishment.
Obeying laws is an example of a mandatory responsibility since there are penalties and consequences when laws are not followed. (USCIS, 2014) The last responsibility we will delve into is participating in your local community. This responsibility is unlike the other two responsibilities discussed since it is not mandatory or required it one that is a civic or social duty. Since it is not mandatory it is more like one is compelled to do it; you are expressing concern and doing something about it.
There is so much need and many ways to get involved in your local community. One way to get involved is to volunteer your time (which means you don’t get paid for what you do) at a local food pantry by either donating non-perishable goods or just go out there and help serve meals to the needy. One can also organize a canned food drive, or winter coat drive then get a team together to go out and distribute them to the less fortunate within the community. Another great way to get involved and to be familiar with what is going on is to attend town hall meetings, public hearings, or join your local PTA (parent-teacher-association). In addition to attending town hall meetings one may also volunteer for appointed local government positions. Many town council positions are voluntary and expressing your opinions to your local leaders at public meetings is a good way to address local issues.
In order to know how to participate and how to get involved one must also keep informed with current issues. There are also specific programs in place that are designed to target the youth of the community such as the Boys & Girls club and the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association). These programs have had impactful results in the areas of academic success, good character and citizenship and healthy lifestyles. (Peterson, n.d.)In closing having rights and responsibilities not only serves to maintain order in a society but also within our system of government.
These rights and responsibilities are not to be taken for granted and should be upheld with the utmost respect. Many are not as fortunate to live in a Democratic society where the people have a voice and may participate in decision making. In order for this system to continue to thrive it takes not just one but all to ensure the continued success. The future depends on us to be actively involved and engaged in the issues of our communities.
After all not all countries have the freedom to pursue “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, which is ultimately, in my opinion, our greatest right as Americans in our great nation. (USCIS, 2014)