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The Power of Speech: Criminalazing Words

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“Words are just words.” These words are often uttered to minimize the effect words can have on people. Were the words of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, just words? Wars have been started by the mere utterance of words. Justice in the court of law have been served by words. Words can leave an indelible mark on a person in a positive or negative manner. Words that effect someone negatively can cause great harm to a person, but we do not criminalize words. This discussion highlights the importance of free speech and points out the discrepancies in our justice system.

When you read an inspiring quote or listen to a remarkable speech, it can feel like it is touching our souls. Most people would admit to experiencing this, but will also agree that “words are just words.” Offensive and insulting speech can be detrimental to the wellbeing of a person. Bullying often comes in the form of verbal abuse and there have been cases of severe bullying that has ended in bullying victims take their own lives. Still, we minimize the value of words because they are just sounds that come out of our mouths. If you steal a bike or if you were to shove someone to the ground, it would be a criminal act. Ultimately, these acts have little effect on the wellbeing of the victim long-term. Not to condone these acts, but in comparison to severe verbal bullying that can lead to depression and suicide, these criminal acts pale in comparison.

Some might suggest that we criminalize words the way we do petty crime. Free speech, no matter how harmful, is critical to a democracy and the ban of certain words should not be sought after. What can be criminalized is the systematic act of bullying. The act of consistently harassing someone by various means of communication, whether it be face-to-face or on the internet. In Massachusetts, a teenage girl that sent her boyfriend text messages that encouraged him to commit suicide. The boyfriend ended up killing himself and the Supreme Judicial Court later ruled that the grand jury’s indictment was legal. The grand jury had ruled to indict her on involuntary manslaughter charges based on the text message transcripts.

It seems the justice system is primarily based on physical crimes. As long as their is no physical assault or theft involved, it goes outside the realm of justice. Words on the other hand are just harmless sound waves that do not portend the violence that physical crimes do. Free speech is such a critical part of American democracy that it would be highly controversial to criminalize words. The easier step to take is to decriminalize victimless crimes, particularly those that pertain to drugs. Words can result in serious harm to a person’s psyche and will go largely unnoticed and unpunished, but thousands will go to prison for petty and victimless crimes. With an average of 50 new criminal laws created each year, there is no end in sight for incongruent penalties for victimless crimes.

It is difficult to make the case that words do not matter when there is evidence all around us suggesting otherwise. Mental anguish is just as harmful and often times more severe than smaller crimes that do carry harsh prison sentences. In lieu of eliminating free speech, efforts should be made to identify and criminalize specific cases of systematic abuse, such as the aforementioned case in Massachusetts and also decriminalize or lessen the punishment for petty and victimless crimes. It is difficult and controversial to regulate speech, but what should not be controversial is to separate relatively benign speech with those that can encourage someone to end their life.

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The Power of Speech: Criminalazing Words. (2018, October 26). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 6, 2022, from
“The Power of Speech: Criminalazing Words.” GradesFixer, 26 Oct. 2018,
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