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The 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."

"I disapprove of what you say, but i will defend to the death your right to say it."

-S.G. Tallentyre, The Friends of Voltaire

Protecting Freedom of speech—Even When we don't like what's being said.

There's a lot that people disagree about these days—politically and socially. That makes for some really uncomfortable conversations.

 

Many people are dug in regarding their opinions and think that anyone who doesn't agree with them is just so, so wrong. Maybe that's the case—or maybe it's not. Regardless, the First Amendment protects everyone's right to express their opinion—even when it's an unpopular one.

There might be speech that you feel should NOT be protected by the First Amendment. And that's totally understandable. But we also have to consider what might happen if our own speech were to be banned by the First Amendment. What would that mean? Let's take a look at a few examples of speech that some people don't agree with and — for their own reasons— find offensive:

Movements and Peaceful Protests

  • Black Lives Matter

  • #MeToo

  • March for Our Lives

  • Pride

  • Kneeling for the national anthem

Music

  • Stan by Eminem

  • I Kissed a Girl by Katy Perry

  • Montero  by Lil Nas X

  • Same Love by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Books

The following books are currently being challenged and/or banned in various communities throughout the United States:

  • Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds

  • Something Happened in Our Town: A Child's Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin

  • The Handmaid's Tale  by Margaret Atwood

  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

  • Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin

  • The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

You can learn more about why these books are being challenged and/or banned here.

Our country would be a very different place if individuals weren't allowed to share their opinions—no matter how unpopular they are—without fear of government action.

Listening to others' hot takes that we don't agree with, that are hurtful or that are just wrong sucks. But not being able to share our own hot takes would suck even more.

But Wait! There's more!
 

The First Amendment protects more than just speech. It actually provides us FIVE freedoms—most of which we benefit from every day.

freedom of speech

Free speech allows people to make comments, share ideas, and form opinions without fear of retaliation, government restraint, and legal action. It also protects unpopular speech, such as hate speech. 

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freedom of religion

Freedom of religion allows individuals and communities to practice religion in public or private and to observe without interference. It even protects individuals who do not want to practice religion at all!

freedom of the press

Free press grants the right to share news or express opinions in print or digital media without government censorship

freedom of assembly

Freedom of assembly gives people the right to come together and peacefully hold public meetings or protests without government interference. 

freedom to Petition the Government

Freedom of petition gives the public the right to challenge the government without punishment through peaceful and legal actions. 

Is all speech protected? Nope.

Our First Amendment rights aren't absolute. There are certain types of speech that don't receive protection.

 

In a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case called Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire (1942), the court ruled that "whenever such speech fails to 'contribute to the expression of ideas [or] possessed any ‘social value’ for the truth,' the right to utter that speech can be limited by government when it seeks to promote the 'social interest in order and morality.'"

 

The following categories of speech do NOT receive First Amendment protection:

Obscenity

Fighting words

Defamation (including libel and slander)

Child pornography

Perjury

Blackmail

Incitement to imminent lawless action

True threats

Solicitations to commit crimes

Additionally, time, place and manner restrictions can be placed (in some circumstances) upon events in which people assemble—such as protests.

You can read more about the First Amendment and its exceptions here.