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What is Sedition? - Definition & Examples

Instructor: Vericia Miller
In this lesson, you will learn the meaning of sedition, how it has evolved over the centuries, and why it was considered the worst crime one could commit against a government.

Sedition Defined

Sedition is not a word we hear very often; so what is it? Sedition is legally defined as ''the criminal act of revolting against an established authority, usually in the form of treason or defamation of a government.'' In other words, if you are conspiring or plotting to overthrow by violent force, harm in any way, or more specifically, kill any authority figure in government, you have committed sedition.

Sedition not only covers a person's actions but also any words or writings in print that may incite, encourage or promote the overthrowing of a government. To overthrow means to remove by force. The United States is a country where this would be very difficult to do, but in other countries where government is not as organized, stable, and industrialized, revolts happen often.

First Amendment Protections

In 1918, the Sedition Act was passed by US Congress as a way to protect the government against segments of the country that did not agree with its policies. The Sedition Act was passed to prohibit anyone from speaking negatively against the government, including speaking in a negative manner about the President. The belief was that, if you made false accusations or spoke negatively about your own government, you could cause instability within the country, as well as put the President's life in danger. If accused of Sedition or Seditious Libel (negative and/or false talk,) you could have been imprisoned for up to 20 years.

We've come a long way in the United States, because although sedition laws still remain on the books, they are rarely enforced. Times have changed, and we've evolved as a society. Sedition used to be viewed as treason, or even an act of domestic terrorism, but it's now viewed by many as an American's First Amendment rights.

Of the five rights all Americans are afforded within the First Amendment, the two that protect you against Sedition are your freedom of speech, and the freedom of the press. Simply put, you have the right to disagree with the government, including the President of the United States. According to the First Amendment, you have the right to verbally speak out against what you do not agree with. You have the right to give a dissenting opinion, and you have the right to write about it and publish it if you so choose.

What we cannot do as Americans is incite violence towards the President. We cannot make threats on his life, or attempt to encourage others to forcibly remove him from office; that is, in fact, illegal.

Modern Day Examples of Sedition

There's a fine line between Sedition, as it is defined, and freedom of speech; but in this day and age, prosecutions for sedition are extremely rare. It's not uncommon to hear news pundits speaking harshly about the President and members of his cabinet. However, it is a pundit's right and job to critique members of the government, just as it is their right to choose how they deliver that critique.

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