2015 ERC Scholarship Essay Program $750 Recipient
Kelci Schaeffer, Mercer Island (Mercer Island High School)

Freedom of speech is an issue that has been debated throughout American history and the history of other countries. Although this freedom should be a basic human right, history proves that many have to risk their lives and reputations in order to speak freely. Freedom of speech is not free; the price of this freedom is the lives of those who have fought in our military, and the risk of our own reputations being damaged. This should not be the case, but unfortunately human nature makes it this way.

My older cousin proves to be a good example of those who have made a sacrifice so we can have freedom of speech. He joined the military when he was eighteen in order to protect our country and our rights. After a few years of serving in Afghanistan, he lost his leg and a lot of his hearing. His action of joining the military may have helped protect us from losing many of our freedoms, but as a result of this he will always have a prosthetic, pain in his other leg, and a hearing loss. Protecting freedom of speech almost cost my cousin his life, and many of his friends lost their lives for this cause. If we did not have brave men and women like my cousin serving in the military, then there is a possibility that we would not have this right at all.

In addition, freedom of speech has cost some people their reputations. Whenever we speak, we expose ourselves to the risk of other members of our community negatively judging us. Speaking creates the possibility of other people putting labels on us, even if we do not want to be put into a certain category. For example: I do not want to be categorized with a label, which can cause political stereotyping, or threats of being labeled “racist” or “sexist” if certain words are used. I have a friend at my school who chooses to speak out about what she believes in, but pays the price when others, who do not agree with her views, try to silence her by making fun of her Venezuelan accent.

Intimidation is often used as a tool to silence freedom of speech through personal attacks and statements such as “it’s a settled science” (true science is never settled, including Einstein theories), “all/most scientists/economists agree”, “I can’t believe you think that”, “you must be stupid”, and “this is not the time or place”.

Freedom of speech is not free, but it is something that we should continue to fight for. If we allow violence and judgment of others to impede one of our most basic constitutional rights, then we will no longer live in the democracy; we will live in a dictatorship. We must continue to protest and speak our minds even though others may judge us, belittle us, bully us, and attempt to silence us by making fun of us for our opinions.