Free Speech

Free speech includes more than just words. Courts consider expressive conduct as a type of speech for First Amendment purposes. For instance, messages on t-shirts or bumper stickers, gestures, physical motions and actions all comprise forms of speech. So is dancing, and even erotic dancing may be considered a form of expression and therefore a type of protected speech. Many symbolic acts, such as flag burning, are also protected forms of speech, since they are intended to convey a certain message. Flag burning creates much emotion and controversy, proving a powerful form of speech. Therefore, courts consider flag burning worthy of constitutional free speech protections.

With the political climate in 2019, free speech, threats, incitement, collusion, storytelling, fake news, parodies, and the like elevate to powerful positions never before seen. Currently, all sides began  assaulting free speech rights to fit their views and goals. Criminal liability can evolve from otherwise seemingly innocuous statements made by someone. Social Media, especially Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter present novel questions about what constitutes harassment, stalking, offensive conduct, and free speech. This often leaves law enforcement agents confused as to how to correctly respond.

 

While courts may consider many words and physical acts “protected speech” not all communications obtain guaranteed protection from governmental interference. The U.S. Supreme Court identified several speech categories not protected, meaning, the government can make laws outlawing these communications. Penalties for violating prohibited speech law include fines, arrest, probation, judgments, community service, and in some cases imprisonment. Types of speech which are not protected include but are not limited to: defamation, obscenity, national security, and fighting words, inciting panic/riots. Defamation refers to both libel (published false statement) and slander (spoken fake comment) and is broadly defined as actions damaging the good reputation of another person.

Depending on the speech type, the government may make regulations, such as placing reasonable time, place, or manner restrictions. Requiring large assembly permits before marching, or prohibiting using sound trucks in certain neighborhoods, demonstrate acceptable restrictions. Unreasonable restrictions, or regulations especially those selectively applied against certain groups or beliefs, remain open for redress in court. The guarantees of free speech are protection against government action and intrusion. This includes laws, regulations, and ordinances at all levels of government, including federal, state and municipal. All state and the federal constitution exempt from protection all actions by non-governmental actors.  Society considers free speech a bedrock right, yet, unfortunately, governmental officials consistently misapply the law, or simply desire silencing dissent.

Further, government employees, including federal, state and local government workers, possess civil rights, immunities, and liberties guaranteed respectively by the United States, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Illinois Constitutions. Civil rights violations committed against government employees often come in the forms of harassment, retaliation, and wrongful discharge. Civil rights violations against state and municipal employees also include demotions, failures to promote, suspensions, and other adverse employment actions. Employers in government agencies take action against employees who legally express their rights because those opinions contradict the unit’s beliefs.

If someone has threatened your First Amendment rights, we very likely can successfully handle the case. on your behalf. In doing so, we would not turn anyone away because their speech is unpopular or something we personally did not agree with. Free speech’s central tenet remains expressing ideas, unpopular with the majority, a belief everyone at Cornerstone strongly subscribe to. No Constitutional need exists to protect speech everyone likes. Buffers exist precisely to protect the communications which challenge popular beliefs and push people outside their normal comfort zones.

Student Free Speech

The U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guarantees free speech for public and private school students. The 2011, U.S. Supreme Court in Brown, reaffirmed minors First Amendment Rights in a decision, holding a California law restricting kids’ access to violent video games violated the First Amendment. Nevertheless, the Court made clear students do not enjoy the full extent of First Amendment rights adults do. In several decisions, the Court balanced student’s free speech rights against official’s legitimate needs. Courts wanted to ensure officials could maintain for all students a safe, functional, and productive educational environment. After all, schools differ from public squares where people come and go at will and generally may, speak freely. Schools possess a particular mission—educating students—and the First Amendment allows instituting policies and rules promoting this, even at the cost of a reasonable limitation on student expression.

The Supreme Court’s bars schools from interfering with a student’s free speech rights, except via limited circumstances. These circumstances include the expression if: 1) “materially and substantially disrupts school environment”, 2) lewd, 3) misrepresents school endorsements, or 4) promotes illegal drugs. While the previous list regarding unprotected expression for students remains non-exhaustive, it highlights the most common types. The definition and descriptions for lewd materials in regards to minors varies greatly than when done for adults. School officials inherently maintain wide discretion in banning these speech types.

If Someone Tries to Censor Your Speech Contact Us

Our seasoned attorneys have many years experience protecting and vigorously advocating for our client’s interests and rights. Governmental agencies and departments often attempt to stifle and suppress negative attention drawn towards their direction.

 

If you have been the victim of censorship or prior restraint, if you have been arrested for engaging in a public demonstration or other protected political activity, either in your private life, work environment, and/or at school or if you have been punished in any way for speaking your mind, contact our attorneys for a free consultation about your situation and possible remedies.