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Freedom of Speech: General

The First Amendment guarantees free speech and freedom of the press. How has Freedom of Speech been interpreted by the Supreme Court? Explore the landmark cases surrounding freedom of speech.

Schenck v. United States (1919)
Freedom of speech can be limited during wartime. The government can restrict expressions that would create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent. Read More.
Abrams v. United States (1919)
The First Amendment did not protect printing leaflets urging to resist the war effort, calling for a general strike, and advocating violent revolution. Read More.
Debs v. United States (1919)
The First Amendment did not protect an anti-war speech designed to obstruct recruiting. Read More.
Gitlow v. New York (1925)
The Supreme Court applied protection of free speech to the states through the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Read More.
Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire (1942)
The First Amendment did not protect fighting words which, by being said, cause injury or cause an immediate breach of the peace. Read More.
West Virginia v. Barnette (1943)
The West Virginia Board’s policy requiring students and teachers to recite the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional. Reversing Minersville v. Gobitas (1940), the Court held government cannot force citizens to confess by word or act their faith in matters of opinion. Read More.
United States v. O’Brien (1968)
The First Amendment did not protect burning draft cards in protest of the Vietnam War as a form of symbolic speech. Read More.
Tinker v. Des Moines (1969)
The Court ruled that students wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War was “pure speech,” or symbolic speech protected by the First Amendment. Read More.
Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969)
The Supreme Court held that the First and Fourteenth Amendments protected speech advocating violence at a Ku Klux Klan rally because the speech did not call for “imminent lawless action.” Read More.
Cohen v. California (1971)
A California statute prohibiting the display of offensive messages violated freedom of expression. Read More.
Miller v. California (1973)
This case set forth rules for obscenity prosecutions, but it also gave states and localities flexibility in determining what is obscene. Read More.
Island Trees School District v. Pico (1982)
The Supreme Court ruled that officials could not remove books from school libraries because they disagreed with the content of the books’ messages. Read More.
Bethel School District v. Fraser (1986)
A school could suspend a pupil for giving a student government nomination speech full of “elaborate, graphic, and explicit sexual metaphor.” Read More.
Texas v. Johnson (1989)
Flag burning as political protest is a form of symbolic speech protected by the First Amendment. Read More.
R.A.V. v. St. Paul (1992)
A criminal ordinance prohibiting the display of symbols that “arouse anger, alarm or resentment in others on the basis of race, color, creed, religion or gender” was unconstitutional. The law violated the First Amendment because it punished speech based on the ideas expressed. Read More.
Reno v. ACLU (1997)
The 1996 Communications Decency Act was ruled unconstitutional since it was overly broad and vague in its regulation of speech on the Internet, and since it attempted to regulate indecent speech, which the First Amendment protects. Read More.
Watchtower Bible and Tract Society v. Stratton (2002)
City laws requiring permits for political advocates going door to door were unconstitutional because such a mandate would have a “chilling effect” on political communication. Read More.
United States v. American Library Association (2003)
The federal government could require public libraries to use Internet-filtering software to prevent viewing of pornography by minors. The burden placed on adult patrons who had to request the filters be disabled was minimal. Read More.
Virginia v. Hicks (2003)
Richmond could ban non-residents from public housing complexes if the non-residents did not have “a legitimate business or social purpose” for being there. The trespass policy was not overbroad and did not infringe upon First Amendment rights. Read More.
Virginia v. Black (2003)
A blanket ban on cross-burning was an unconstitutional content-based restriction on free speech. States could ban cross burning with intent to intimidate, but the cross burning act alone was not enough evidence to infer intent. Read More.
Ashcroft v. ACLU (2004)
The Child On-Line Protection Act violated the First Amendment because it was overbroad, it resulted in content-based restrictions on speech, and there were less-restrictive options available to protect children from harmful materials. Read More.
Morse v. Frederick (2007)
The First Amendment did not protect a public school student’s right to display a banner reading “Bong Hits 4 Jesus”. While students have the right to engage in political speech, the right was outweighed by the school’s mission to discourage drug use. Read More.