Should song lyrics be protected by the First Amendment?U.S. Government class..I need to write a essay about this     paragraph 1* does society need to maintain order outweigh the right for...

Should song lyrics be protected by the First Amendment?

U.S. Government class..I need to write a essay about this



paragraph 1* does society need to maintain order outweigh the right for artistic expression, if the art promotes violence or defames a portion of our population

paragraph 2*are there dangers in limiting artistic expression?

paragraph 3 * how do you feel this issue should be resolved?



Expert Answers
dbello eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Yes, song lyrics are protected under the Constitution. The First Amendment is considered the backbone of American freedom however, it is important you understand that the rights guaranteed in The Bill of Rights are relative, not absolute. That means our guarantees of freedoms (including song lyrics) can be restricted if subjected to clarification by the Supreme Court. Should people be allowed to say and or write anything they want without recourse? Instead of answering the question the U.S. Supreme Court attempts to maintain a balance between the many viewpoints a free society is subject to. The power of judicial review allows the court to interpret the meaning of the Constitution, therefore 1st Amendment rights are subject to the courts interpretation. Obviously song lyrics have the potential to stir tremendous emotion among listeners, what some view as artistic freedom others view as evil. In an attempt to maintain a balance in a free society the court has developed several guidelines to which they apply to freedom of speech cases including objectional song lyrics. They include definitions of obscenity, libel, dangerous tendency, clear and present danger, and censorship. In addition, the court has also recognized that 'the thoughts we hate',  the language that promotes an alternative sometimes ugly perspective must also be protected. We live in a free society where the freedom to express oneself is as valuable as the air, however our freedoms are liken to a balancing act between majority rule and individual rights.


pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Whenever I teach about the First Amendment, I always put up "dirty" song lyrics.  To me, there is no question that the First Amendment must protect song lyrics.

The reason, to me, lies in your paragraph 2.  The problem, in my opinion, with regulating song lyrics is that there is no clear line between song lyrics and political speech.  Everyone would agree that political speech must be protected by the First Amendment.  How do you distinguish between a song lyric that has a political message and one that does not?

Let's say I sing about how we must defend ourselves from illegal immigrants because they will literally destroy our country.  Is that inciting violence?  Is it defaming Hispanics?  Or is it political speech?

Also, how do you distinguish defamation from truth?  Let's say I write a song about how bad white people are for having enslaved Africans and killed Indians.  Am I defaming them.


Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are powerful Constitutional issues at play here.  The Framers designed the First Amendment to be something which was meant to protect the rights of expression.  Distasteful as it may be, expression comes in many forms.  Yet, the limitations on such expression is when it crosses the line into inciting harmful action against others.  When free speech moves out of the realm of expression and begins to interfere in a realm of negative freedom- the right to be left alone- the Court has ruled that this inciting into action is not protected under the First Amendment.  Song lyrics are protected by the First Amendment if they are means of expression.  The Court has consistently ruled that state action cannot be taken for mere unpleasantness or repugnance of expression.  There must be a clear threat voiced by the expression to incite action and constitute true threat to another.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The courts have been quite consistent in protecting free speech when it comes to art, poetry, and music.  Artists must have freedom of expression or we lose something very important as a democracy.  What's more, paragraph 1 of your assignment assumes that artists can be a threat to order, which I have never found to be true.  People respond to artists in different ways, but we are not robots, and the art or music itself does not drive us to rebel or become disorderly.  Art is a reflection of society, not vice versa.

The primary dangers of limiting artistic expression is that you have to set a standard on what you can limit, which can be misapplied, overapplied, and interpreted more harshly in later years.  Once you start to limit art accordingly to the law, then, it's difficult to stop.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
Yes, I think song lyrics should be protected by the first amendment. Songs are one of the most important types of speech. Songs often have political messages, which is one of the main reasons they should be protected. I do think some radio stations have the right to offer cleaned up versions, and stores can include warning stickers.
besure77 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Music is a way that artists express themselves and this is a right that is protected under the First Amendment. If they song is not directly trying to harm another person or group of people then it is protected. Once someone crosses that line, it may be another story.