First Amendment: Freedom of Speech (1791)

This clause prohibits the government from banning speech because it does not agree with the message. The Founders saw free speech as a natural right. In Federalist No. 10, James Madison pointed to freedom of speech as a vital aspect of a healthy republic. While originally written to apply to actions of the federal government, the Supreme Court incorporated it into state governments through the Fourteenth Amendment in the case Gitlow v. New York (1925)

The English Bill of Rights includes a precursor to the First Amendment’s protection of free speech, but while the English Bill of Rights provided for free speech in Parliament, the First Amendment expanded the protection to an individual right of all citizens.

The Alien and Sedition Acts, which outlawed any speech that was critical of government, presented the first challenge to freedom of speech in the early republic. Supreme Court cases centering on freedom of speech include Tinker v. Des Moines (1969), Bethel v. Fraser (1986), and Texas v. Johnson (1989).

Freedom of speech in a self-governing society demands that citizens act with moderation, respect, and responsibility. People like Frederick Douglass, Mary Beth Tinker and Martin Luther King, Jr. have all exercised and fought for the right to freedom of speech.