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Abridging The Freedom Of Speech

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Freedom Of Speech In The United States

212 – Or Abridging the Freedom of Speech

In the United States, freedom of speech and expression is restricted by time, place and manner though otherwise strongly protected from government restrictions by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, many state constitutions, and state and federal laws. Freedom of speech, also called free speech, means the free and public expression of opinions without censorship, interference and restraint by the government. The term “freedom of speech” embedded in the First Amendment encompasses the decision what to say as well as what not to say. The Supreme Court of the United States has recognized several categories of speech that are given lesser or no protection by the First Amendment and has recognized that governments may enact reasonable time, place, or manner restrictions on speech. The First Amendment’s constitutional right of free speech, which is applicable to state and local governments under the incorporation doctrine, prevents only government restrictions on speech, not restrictions imposed by private individuals or businesses unless they are acting on behalf of the government. However, laws may restrict the ability of private businesses and individuals from restricting the speech of others, such as employment laws that restrict employers’ ability to prevent employees from disclosing their salary to coworkers or attempting to organize a labor union.

History Of Freedom Of Speech

The quest for free speech has a long, turbulent history. It has been one fundamental aspect of the individual’s developing relationship both to the state and to society. Until the 17th century various forms of censorship of free speech were common they were contested principally within the framework of larger issues of political and religious conflict. In England in the 17th century, however, freedom of speech began to assume its own importance. John Milton wrote in his Areopagitica : “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.” Philosophers such as John Locke, Voltaire, and, later, John Stuart Mill took up the cry. The right to freedom of speech was recognized in the English Bill of Rights , the French Declaration of the Rights of Man , and the U.S. Bill of Rights . It was to become an integral part of constitutional law even in countries that do not in reality permit free speech. And it gained international recognition with the United Nations’ proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights .

Montana Board Of Regents

The Board of Regents, which governs Montanas public universities, has endorsed the statement of principles on academic freedom and tenure of the American Association of University Presidents:

Teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties but research for pecuniary return should be based upon an understanding with the authorities of the institution.

Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject. Limitations of academic freedom because of religious or other aims of the institution should be clearly stated in writing at the time of the appointment.

College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.

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Freedom Of Speech: Historical Background

First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Debate in the House is unenlightening with regard to the meaning the Members ascribed to the speech and press clause, and there is no record of debate in the Senate.5FootnoteThe House debate insofar as it touched upon this amendment was concerned almost exclusively with a motion to strike the right to assemble and an amendment to add a right of the people to instruct their Representatives. 1 Annals of Cong. 73149 . There are no records of debates in the states on ratification. In the course of debate, Madison warned against the dangers that would arise from discussing and proposing abstract propositions, of which the judgment may not be convinced. I venture to say, that if we confine ourselves to an enumeration of simple, acknowledged principles, the ratification will meet with but little difficulty. 6FootnoteId. at 738. That the simple, acknowledged principles embodied in the First Amendment have occasioned controversy without end both in the courts and out should alert one to the difficulties latent in such spare language.

History Of The First Amendment

Congress Shall Make No Law . . .

Although the rights embodied in the First Amendment were not included in the original draft of the United States Constitution, they were essential in its ratification. After the Constitutional Convention, several states, including New York, refused to ratify the new Constitution because it lacked a Bill of Rights. Legislatures in these states only agreed to sign off on the new plan for the United States government if Congress promised to add protections for freedom of speech, religion, and the press.

James Madison agreed to write this Bill of Rights, which included the First Amendment, the Second Amendment right to bear arms, and due process rights. He based his draft on the Virginia Declaration of Rights written by George Mason. The Bill of Rights originally included 19 amendments, but seven were rejected by the Senate and the House of Representatives.

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Vague And Meaningless Speech

Some expressions have an ambiguous, difficult to articulate, unintended, or indiscernible meaning. These include instrumental music, abstract art, and nonsense. These are generally included in protected “speech”, but some of the justifications for doing so do not apply. In the 1995 decision , the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that the art of Jackson Pollock, the expressionist music of Arnold Schoenberg, and the semi-nonsense poem Jabberwocky are protected. This stands in contrast to, for example, Nazi Germany, which banned what it called “degenerate art” and “degenerate music“.

In the 2010 decision Kleinman v. City of San Marcos, the U.S. Fifth Circuit noted a number of cases where artistic expressive elements were mixed with non-speech elements . In each case, the courts chose to apply full First Amendment protection, but used intermediate scrutiny and upheld the content-neutral government regulations at issue .

In the case Morse v. Frederick, the defendant claimed the slogan “BONG HiTS 4 JESUS” intended to provoke amusement or disgust but not advocate anything, but the Supreme Court ruled it could be punished under the school speech doctrine because a reasonable person could interpret it as advocating illegal drug use .

Office Of The Commissioner Of Higher Education

The Montana Commissioner of Higher Education has issued guidelines explaining what political activities by public officers and employees are allowed and prohibited in the workplace.


  • Public officers and employees may not use public time, facilities, equipment, supplies, personnel or funds to solicit support for or opposition to any political committee, the nomination or election of any person to public office, or passage of a ballot issue.
  • Employers may not exhibit in the workplace handbills or placards containing any threat, promise or notice intended to influence political opinion or actions of the employers employees
  • A person cannot coerce or require a public employee to support or oppose any political committee, candidate or the passage of a ballot issue
  • The state may not refuse employment or discriminate against a person in a term of employment because of that persons political beliefs.
  • State law prohibits inducing someone to vote for or against a candidate or ballot issue by promising something of value, including employment or appointment to a public post.


  • State law does not restrict the right of a public employee to express personal political beliefs at work or elsewhere. As long as public time, facilities, equipment, supplies or funds are not involved, employees may engage in personal political speech.
  • Public officials and employees may inform and explain the effects and impact of a ballot issue on a public program.

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Clear And Present Danger

The first clear-cut test came over the Espionage Act passed by Congress during World War I this act made it illegal to interfere with the recruitment or drafting of soldiers or to do anything adversely affecting military morale. In Schenck v. United States the Court upheld the conviction of a socialist indicted under the act on the ground that freedom of speech is not absolute. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., delivered the Court’s unanimous opinion he argued: “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. . . . The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.”

First Amendment To The United States Constitution

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The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prevents the government from making laws that regulate an establishment of religion, or that prohibit the free exercise of religion, or abridge the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, the freedom of assembly, or the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. It was adopted on December 15, 1791, as one of the ten amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights.

The Bill of Rights was proposed to assuage Anti-Federalist opposition to Constitutional ratification. Initially, the First Amendment applied only to laws enacted by the Congress, and many of its provisions were interpreted more narrowly than they are today. Beginning with Gitlow v. New York , the Supreme Court applied the First Amendment to statesa process known as incorporationthrough the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Free Press Clause protects publication of information and opinions, and applies to a wide variety of media. In Near v. Minnesota and New York Times v. United States , the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment protected against prior restraintpre-publication censorshipin almost all cases. The Petition Clause protects the right to petition all branches and agencies of government for action. In addition to the right of assembly guaranteed by this clause, the Court has also ruled that the amendment implicitly protects freedom of association.

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Freedom Of Speech Quotes

Throughout time, people have craved, even when it was denied them, the right to freely express themselves. Freedom of speech quotes have survived centuries, to be used again and again, as people fight for this basic human right. What follows are ten great examples of freedom of speech quotes, wherein folks have either defended the policy as is, or have defended the laws that keep freedom of speech in check.

If we dont believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we dont believe in it at all. Noam Chomsky

Freedom of speech is useless without freedom of thought. Spiro Agnew

Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom and no such thing as public liberty, without freedom of speech. Benjamin Franklin

There has to be a cut-off somewhere between the freedom of expression and a graphically explicit free-for-all. E.A. Bucchianeri

For if men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences, that can invite the consideration of mankind, reason is of no use to us the freedom of speech may be taken away, and, dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter. George Washington

Those who make conversations impossible, make escalation inevitable. Stefan Molyneux

Freedom of speech gives you the right to stay silent. Neil Gaiman

Abridging The Freedom Of Speech

The US Constitution is frequently romanticized as a the gold standard of how to frame a nation. The Bill of Rights is particularly revered for shaping the very ideas of the rights of citizens. It is argued that the most important of these is the freedom of speech, guaranteed by the First Amendment. Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, it reads. Simple and straightforward, the right to free expression is protected by the government.

Yet we are in a crisis: Hatred has run rampant through our streets, directly threatening the livelihood of the nations most vulnerable peoples. We are directly confronted by public displays of white supremacy, most notably the rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that claimed the life of Heather Heyer. These people do not hide their bigotry, and openly revel in their desire for a white ethno-state. But the First Amendment guarantees that their words and assemblies are protected. How?

The Supreme Court of the United States has constantly ruled that there exists no exception to the First Amendment for hate speech. The current test for whether or not speech is not protected stems from the 1969 ruling in Brandenburg v. Ohio, where the court ruled:

The constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a state to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force, or of law violation except where such advocacy is directly inciting imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.

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Freedom Of Speech And Of The Press

The First Amendment broadly protects the rights of free speech and free press. Free speech means the free and public expression of opinions without censorship, interference, or restraint by the government. The term “freedom of speech” embedded in the First Amendment encompasses the decision what to say as well as what not to say. Free press means the right of individuals to express themselves through publication and dissemination of information, ideas, and opinions without interference, constraint, or prosecution by the government. In Murdock v. Pennsylvania , the Supreme Court stated that “Freedom of press, freedom of speech, freedom of religion are in a preferred position.”. The Court added that a community may not suppress, or the state tax, the dissemination of views because they are unpopular, annoying, or distasteful. That would be a complete repudiation of the philosophy of the Bill of Rights, according to the Court. In Stanley v. Georgia , the Supreme Court stated that the First Amendment protects the right to receive information and ideas, regardless of their social worth, and to be generally free from governmental intrusions into one’s privacy and control of one’s own thoughts.

A Common Interpretation: Freedom Of Speech And The Press

First Amendment US Constitution Congress Shall Make No Law Respecting ...

As part of the National Constitution Centers Interactive Constitution project, leading scholars across the legal and philosophical spectrum find common ground on the Constitutions articles, amendments, and provisions. In this essay from September 2015, Geoffrey R. Stonefrom the University of Chicago Law School and Eugene Volokh from the UCLA School of Law say the legal protection today offered by the First Amendment is stronger than ever before in our history.

Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press. What does this mean today? Generally speaking, it means that the government may not jail, fine, or impose civil liability on people or organizations based on what they say or write, except in exceptional circumstances.

Although the First Amendment says Congress, the Supreme Court has held that speakers are protected against all government agencies and officials: federal, state, and local, and legislative, executive, or judicial. The First Amendment does not protect speakers, however, against private individuals or organizations, such as private employers, private colleges, or private landowners. The First Amendment restrains only the government.

There are generally three situations in which the government can constitutionally restrict speech under a less demanding standard.

1. In some circumstances, the Supreme Court has held that certain types of speech are of only low First Amendment value, such as:

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Alien And Sedition Acts

In 1798, Congress, which contained several of the ratifiers of the First Amendment at the time, adopted the Alien and Sedition Acts. The laws prohibited the publication of “false, scandalous, and malicious writings against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress of the United States, or the President of the United States, with intent to defame … or to bring them … into contempt or disrepute or to excite against them … hatred of the good people of the United States, or to stir up sedition within the United States, or to excite any unlawful combinations therein, for opposing or resisting any law of the United States, or any act of the President of the United States”.

The law did allow truth as a defense and required proof of malicious intent. The 1798 Act nevertheless made ascertainment of the intent of the framers regarding the First Amendment somewhat difficult, as some of the members of Congress that supported the adoption of the First Amendment also voted to adopt the 1798 Act. The Federalists under President John Adams aggressively used the law against their rivals, the Democratic-Republicans. The Alien and Sedition Acts were a major political issue in the 1800 election, and after he was elected President, Thomas Jefferson pardoned those who had been convicted under the Act. The Act expired and the Supreme Court never ruled on its constitutionality.

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