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Freedom of Speech and Press
The First Amendment provides some of the most basic and fundamental rights guaranteed to people in the United States. Of these fundamental rights, many consider the rights to freedom of speech and press paramount. Both the federal and state governments are prohibited from limiting an individual's rights to expression, whether it is through speech, press, assembly, or association.
Why Is Free Speech and Press Important?
The right to free speech is an essential ingredient to any civilized and healthy society. Some of the benefits of free speech include:
- Encourages self-governance
- Promotes societal tolerance and self-restraint
- Helps ensure that government officials do not abuse their power
- Helps develop moral virtue
What Rights to Expression Do I Have?
As Americans, we are fortunate to have a guaranteed right to freedom of expression. This right allows us to express ourselves freely, through any medium, without fear of government prosecution or censorship. Under the First Amendment, you can:
- Participate in a political protest
- Buy, sell, and possess explicit pornography as long as it does not meet the definition of "hardcore obscenity," which includes child pornography
- Write, publish, and distribute anti-government propaganda
- Burn the American flag in public as a symbol of protest
Although the First Amendment grants a right to freedom of speech, not all speech is constitutionally protected (see article entitled: Lawyer Resource Center: The First Amendment). Some forms of speech are unprotected, while a number of other forms of speech receive limited or conditional protection. These types of speech are denied full protection because the Supreme Court of the United States has determined that the intrinsic value of such speech is nominal. The following categories of speech are constitutionally unprotected:
- Speech that tends to incite immediate lawlessness
- Obscenity and Pornography in particular circumstances
- Fighting Words in limited circumstances
- Offensive speech in limited circumstances
Should I Consult with Freedom of Speech and the Press Lawyers?
If you feel that your constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of speech or the press have been compromised, you should contact a constitutional law attorney. Speaking with the proper lawyer experienced in your constitutional protections will inform you of your rights as well as preserve any possible legal remedies you may have.
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Last Modified: 12-04-2013 04:43 PM PST
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