This week’s Pizza and Politics event at Southern Utah University’s Leavitt Center discussed censorship in America.
The two presenters, Aidan Gates and Brett Hedges, began by defining censorship as “the changing or the suppression or prohibition of speech or writing that is deemed subversive of the common good.” They then went over some potential advantages and disadvantages of censorship being exercised by the U.S. government. The advantages included the protection of national security, the rights of artists and inventors and the rights of advertisement consumers, while disadvantages included adverse effects on the economy, prevention of freedom of speech and increased ambiguity.
Gates and Hedges also discussed the history of censorship in the U.S. and various Supreme Court cases that have come to define how censorship is to be used in this country. The First Amendment’s protection of free speech clause has generally been interpreted to mean that citizens are “allowed to speak, publish, read, and view what they wish,” as long as time, place and manner are fairly considered. The Brandenburg Test, which arose from a case in 1969, recommends that speech can only be prohibited if it is directly intended to cause imminent danger or incite lawless action and is actually likely to do so.
The presenters also brought up some of the various types of censorship. There are four different types of censorship: withholding information, destroying information, altering or carefully selecting information and, lastly, self-censorship, where a person chooses to avoid being exposed to certain opinions or content.
Censorship is used in many different contexts. For example, censorship of art can include books, while censorship of live media can restrict television. Another example is censorship of political opinions perceived to be dangerous in times of crisis. Book banning is the most wide-spread form of censorship in the U.S., and several well-known books currently considered classics, including “The Great Gatsby,” “The Catcher in the Rye” and “To Kill A Mockingbird” have been banned at various times.
Characteristic of all Pizza and Politics events, the two presenters asked to hear opinions from the audience on questions related to their topic. In answer to whether a citizen’s public speech can be used to legally prevent them from running for office, one student said that in a democracy the choice of public officials should be entirely left up to the citizens. Another added in agreement with this that, even if citizens choose to vote for someone problematic, then that’s the way it should be because that is how democracy works. A third attendee disagreed with these views, saying that ordinary voters are not always smart enough to make good decisions for themselves, especially not when certain politicians might use social media to spread very harmful messages.
An attendee responded to the question of whether the use of censorship is justified in times of heightened national security risk by saying that sometimes the case is yes, but if, for example, the government is censoring the news coverage of a war in order to get citizens to think the war is over a just cause, then censorship is wrong and unjust.
“I think that censorship is interesting because, on the one hand, it is important to protect national interests that would be dangerous to disclose to foreign powers,” said Sam Clayton, a freshman studying political science and legal studies. “But the majority of the time, I think censorship is unjustifiable, immoral and not permissible.”
Pizza and Politics is held every Wednesday at noon in the Leavitt Center for students of any major to attend to learn about and discuss various political issues. The event next week will be about homelessness in America.
At each Pizza and Politics event, there is a presentation and discussion on some pertinent topic regarding U.S. history and politics led by two of the Leavitt Center’s members, followed by free pizza provided to all participants. Further information on the Leavitt Center and its events can be found on their website.
Story: Emily Walters
Photos: Emily Walters
Editor: Chevy Blackburn