POLS 15 – Limitations on Freedom of Speech


[music] Now, let’s consider the
limitations on speech. The First Amendment is absolute. It says, “Congress shall make no law…
abridging the freedom of speech,” but the Supreme Court has never
interpreted it that way. The amount of First Amendment
protections speech gets depends on what kind of speech it is. Some kinds of speech get
more protection than others. The kind of speech that receives the
highest level of protection is political speech. That’s the primary reason free speech
was included in the Constitution, is because it’s so important for
citizens in a democracy. Political speech receives such
a high level of protection from the First Amendment that even
false political speech is protected. In 1988, the Supreme Court decided the
case of Hustler v. Falwell. Hustler is an adult magazine and Jerry Falwell was a well-known
religious and political leader. Hustler was not a big fan of Jerry Falwell, and so they ran a parody that claimed Jerry Falwell had lost his virginity
while he was drunk with his mother. Falwell sued Hustler
but he lost by a 9-0 vote. The Supreme Court noted that
it was clearly a parody, and they also said, “The political cartoon is a weapon of attack, of scorn and ridicule and satire; it is least effective when it tries to pat some politician on the back. It is usually as welcome as a bee sting.” Another type of speech, which receives
somewhat less protection than political speech is
commercial speech. Commercial speech mainly refers
to advertisements, and it is protected under
the First Amendment. If their product is legal,
companies have a right to advertise it. However, the government does have the
right to regulate ads that are false or misleading in order
to protect the consumer. Next, there are several kinds of speech
which are completely unprotected by the First Amendment. These kinds of speech can be
regulated by the government or even banned altogether. Unprotected speech includes
obscenity and child pornography; “fighting words,” which are words
that are designed to provoke someone else to fight; incitement, which is provoking others
to break the law. Speech that presents a
clear and present danger is also not protected
by the First Amendment. A good example is falsely shouting
“fire” in a crowded theater and causing a stampede. The First Amendment also does not
protect libel or slander. These are false statements that
injure someone else’s reputation. And finally, the government is always
permitted to place what are known as “time, place, and manner”
restrictions on speech. Sometimes people just want
a little bit of quiet, and the government has the
right to create quiet zones. For example, some laws require
quiet late at night or in hospitals or in classrooms
or in courtrooms and other places. Although the government is allowed
to restrict speech in many instances, it’s never allowed to restrict speech based
on the viewpoint that’s being expressed. [music]

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