It’s Free Speech, Man!

I have noticed a recurring theme among young people. They seem to believe that ANYTHING and EVERYTHING they say, under any circumstance, is protected by their first amendment rights.

“I can say whatever I want: it’s called free speech!”


“We can organize a protest at any time. That’s protected by freedom of speech!”


Students set fire to trash cans, broke down barriers and spray painted racial and homophobic slurs on both public and private property, as a form of protest and exercising their “right to free speech.”


Freedom of Speech Is:

  • West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette: The right not to speak, more specifically the right not to salute the flag.
  • Tinker v. Des Moines: Public schools and institutions do not have the right to restrict free speech if it is not harmful or disruptive to others. “Students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate.”
  • Cohen v. California: The right to use certain offensive words and phrases to convey political messages.
  • Buckley v. Valeo: The right to contribute money to political campaigns.
  • Virginia Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Consumer Council & Bates v. State Bar of Arizona: The right to advertise commercial products and professional services.
  • Texas v. Johnson & United States v. Eichman: The right to engage in symbolic speech such as burning the flag, stand-ins, marches or symbolic clothing.

Freedom of Speech Isn’t:

  • Schenck v. United States: Used to incite actions that would harm others. (This is the shouting fire in  a crowded theater reference everyone always uses.)
  • Roth v. United States: Making or distributing obscene materials.
  • Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier: Permitting students to print articles in a school newspaper after the administration has objected.
  • Bethel School District #43 v. Fraser: Permitting students to make an obscene speech at a school-sponsored event.
  • Morse v. Frederick: Permitting students to advocate illegal drug use at a school-sponsored event.

Historically, the Supreme Court has protected freedom of speech and freedom of the press in every way possible, making our citizens some of the most organized and informed on the planet.  So do everyone a favor, and stop abusing it.



One thought on “It’s Free Speech, Man!

  1. It’s not just young people. And most people fail to recognize that the 1st amendment does not protect them from the consequences of their speech, with the exception of government intervention. I like this summary of the court cases used to define the 1st amendment. Thanks.


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