Free Speech

March 31, 2021
Free Speech

Are We Truly Free?

Censorship takes center stage as social media platforms restrict posts from the president of the United States.

Here’s one part of the story: What is free speech?

“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.”

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution includes five guaranteed freedoms: religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition.

Free Speech Basics

  • Free speech does *not* mean you can say whatever you want, whenever (or wherever) you choose.
  • Free speech means a gov’t entity can neither compel speech or other forms of expression, nor prohibit *certain* forms of speech & other forms of expression — this is “protected speech.”
  • Free speech prohibitions apply to gov’t actors — *not* private companies (like social media platforms).

What Counts As Speech?

  • More than words! Protections extend beyond spoken or written words to various non-verbal actions, including:
  • Silence (ex: public school students can’t be forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance or salute the U.S. flag, nor be punished for declining)
  • Political Spending (ex: certain donations to campaigns or candidates)
  • Symbolic Speech (ex: flag burning)
  • Commercial Speech (ex: offensive ads)

Is It All Protected?

No! Some types of speech can lose their protection when they fall into certain categories, such as:

  • Intentional misrepresentations of facts, such as fraud (ex: an ad making false claims) or defamation (such as a tabloid’s false report).
  • Incitement/fighting words – hateful speech/actions likely to cause imminent unlawful violence.

BIG PICTURE: The First Amendment's Free Speech Clause is meant to ensure the free flow of ideas and protect us from censorship by the government so that no gov't entity (local, state, or federal) suppresses or punishes protected speech. How can businesses limit our speech? Next week on SmartHER News.

by Jenna Lee,