Freedom of Speech

With the comments by President Donald Trump and the protests by NFL players being highlighted in the media, it is important to consider what our laws say about “Freedom of Speech” and this right granted to ALL of us in the United States.

This right is not absolute. State, local and federal governments can limit how people express themselves. Threats and incitations to violence – aren’t protected at all.

Free Speech entitles us:

  1. Not to speak (the right to not salute the flag.)
  2. To protest war
  3. To use offensive words and phrases to convey political messages.
  4. To contribute money to a political campaign.
  5. To advertise commercial products and services (with restrictions)
  6. To engage in symbolic speech (flag burning in protest etc.)

Additionally, free speech isn’t limited. We have these same rights every day. This means, that even speech that other people do not like or agree with is legal. The First Amendment protects speech even if most people find it offensive, hurtful or hateful. The government cannot determine what can and cannot be said.

Your right to protest in public places can be limited. And, your right to protest is protected as long as it is peaceful. The First Amendment doesn’t offer protections for a gathering in which a clear, present danger of riot, disorder and interference of traffic or an immediate threat to public safety exists.

For even more information on your right to Freedom of Speech, visit Us Courts
and Cornell Law

The First Amendment: Free Speech

What exactly does “freedom of speech” mean?

The First Amendment protects our right to free speech specifically stating,

“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.”

When the Bill of Rights was drafted, the First Amendment was put first because many of our Founding Father’s believed these were fundamental, basic rights. It is labeled as a human right, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that,

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”15722ec

The U.S. Supreme Court has struggled often to determine what exactly constitutes free speech and what should be covered under this particular law.

Freedom of speech includes:

  • The right not to speak (salute the flag): West Virginia Board of Education vs Barnette, 1943
  • Students can wear black armbands to school to protest war: Tinker vs Des Moines, 1969
  • Contributing money (under certain circumstances) to political campaigns, Buckley v. Valeo, 1976
  • Symbolic speech, Texas v. Johnson, 1989
  • To use certain offensive words to portray political message, Cohen v. California, 1971


Freedom of speech is not:

  • Inciting actions that would harm others, Schenck v. United States,1919
  • Make/distributing obscene materials, Roth v. United State, 1957
  • Burn draft card to protest war, O’Brien v. United States, 1968
  • Printing articles in the school newspaper that are objected by the school administration, Hazelwood School District v. Kulhmeier, 1988
  • Students advocating illegal drug use at a school-sponsored event, Morse v. Frederick, 2007


Source: United States Courts-