Musicians The Sedition Act Of 1918 Would Have Screwed

Freedom of speech is one of the most cherished rights that Americans have, and the fight for that right has drawn some of the greatest legal battles in our history. We like to believe that, after 200-plus years of defense of that right, that we can take it as a given.

However, this week marks the 93rd anniversary that pretty much eradicated that right, at least it did if you decided to criticize the government who, you know, just took away that right. On May 16 President Woodrow Wilson signed into law an amendment to the Espionage Act called the Sedition Act of 1918.

The act made "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the United States government, its flag, or its armed forces or that caused others to view the American government or its institutions with contempt" a crime punishable by up to two years in jail and $2,000 in fines. Adjusted for inflation that would be up to $28,000 in today's dollars.

Just for extra fun, the act also allowed the postmaster to open your mail if they thought you were indulging in a little sedition. It should be noted that this act was only applicable during war time. Granted, since 1776 the U.S. has spent a fifth of its lifetime at declared war, with the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan making up more than 20 percent of the total time spent in combat operations.

Luckily for all of us, the act lasted only until December 1920, when it was repealed. Good thing too, as there are a lot of musicians out there who would be sitting in the pokey right now if it hadn't. Now, Rocks Off is usually not a fan of overly political music. In our opinion it rarely enhances either politics or music, but no one should be punished for singing out against the ruling class.

If the act hadn't been repealed, some of today's artists who'd need lawyers would be...


Of course, if the Sedition Act of 1918 was still in effect there would be no punk rock. Simple as that. The mohawks are going to come for us on this one, but we've chosen Green Day as the example from the punk genre who would be shopping for legal representation right now but for the act's repeal.

Why? Because "Holiday" from American Idiot was a big hit, and the song very clearly states that those who criticize the government can expect only violence in return. The fear of oppression by the war machine has never been summed up better than the lyric, "Kill all the fags who don't agree."

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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner