Unit Five Lesson 29

How does the First Amendment Protect
Free Expression?
Why is Protecting
Free Expression Important?
The Founders believed freedom to express your opinions was essential for
a free government
It isn’t easy to tolerate the free speech of people with whom you
The pressure to suppress free expression is powerful for the majority group
or the government
There are many reasons to support Free Speech
 Promotes Individual Growth and Human Dignity
○ Right to thing about an issue and arrive at your own conclusion (morality, politics, etc)
 Advances Knowledge
○ New ideas come from free discussions. Can be the foundation of future discoveries
 Necessary Part of a Representative Government
○ Government is supposed to respond to the will of the people. People need access of information,
ideas, & various points of views. Then they can inform their representative as to their views
 Vital to bring about Peaceful Social Change
○ Provides a safety valve for those with STRONG OPINIONS. This allows people to try to convince
others that their views are valid
○ Allows a person to stand up and protect their/others rights
Early America – How was Freedom
of Expression protected?
SEDITION – early on, it was illegal to write anything that went against the
government. LIBEL – publishing anti-government stuff also illegal
At first, the view was that no one should be able to print malicious or false
accusations against the government
The Founders feared the government might interfere with a free press. This
fear was realized when Congress passed the SEDITION ACT of 1798. This
made it illegal to publish "any false, scandalous and malicious writing,"
The Republicans won the next elections based on defending political
freedoms against Congressional acts
 Thomas Jefferson said, “Our liberty depends on freedom of the press, and that cannot be
limited without being lost.”
Trial of John Peter Zenger
1735 – Zenger charged with “Seditious Libel”.
 His lawyer argued that what Zenger published was the truth and thus not libel
 The Judge ruled that the truth was not a defense, that if Zenger published the
material, he was guilty
 The Jury ignored the judge and found him “not guilty” because what he published
was the truth
 This case, became a nation, established the freedom of the press
 It also established the importance of a jury, to check the power of the courts
When Freedom of Expression has
been suppressed
There have been pressures throughout history to suppress UNPOPULAR
IDEAS, especially during war time
 Civil War – Congress made it a federal offense to send abolitionist literature through the
 From WWI – 1850’s : The fear of communism and socialism caused the government to
enact various laws to limit those ideas. These led to several Supreme Court cases
challenging the government’s power to limit free expression of ideas
 1960’s and after – the number of times the government has tried to limit free expression
has dropped dramatically
Activity #3 Questions
What rights, values, and interests of individuals and society
might be promoted or endangered by the position that
advocates limiting the freedom to express antidemocratic
2) What rights, values and interests of individuals and society
might be promoted or endangered by the position that
advocates limiting freedom of expression rarely, if ever, no
matter how dangerous or obnoxious the expressed ideas
my be?
3) After the discussion, reflect on whether YOUR OWN
OPINIONS on this issue were changed? Explain WHY or
Commonly Accepted Limitations on
Freedom of Expression
Expression must be truthful to be protected
Expression cannot interfere with another’s rights
Liberty is not a license to do anything one pleases
 In some cases, limiting freedom to speak may actually
increase a person’s ability to be heard.
 Rules of how one speaks at meetings or in a debate
 Cannot be really loud in a residential area in the middle of the night
How may Governments Limit
The Supreme Court has allowed some limitations
 Laws may not discriminate unfairly on the basis of the content of the
expression or the speaker
○ Schools can limit passing out literature on campus that has not been approved
○ Cannot single out a person who holds an unpopular belief
 Time, place, and manner restrictions must be content-neutral and
applied fairly
○ Speech can be limited to a specific time or place (obtain permits)
 Regulations on expression cannot be vague
○ Rule prohibiting “disrespectful speech that interferes with the public good”
 Regulations must not be overly broad and must be implemented by
the “least restrictive means”
○ After one demonstration turns violent, banning all political demonstrations would be
too broad
How do wars and emergencies
affect Free Speech and Press?
During wars and emergencies, free speech is often suppressed
Governments seek to limit dissent or criticism in the name of defense
The government hoped to stop challenges to the type of government we
had by limiting unpopular ideas when the country was fearful of
communism (Red Scare)
1969 – The Supreme Court ruled on Free Speech and Press in a way that
was far more tolerant of inflammatory speech
 Brandenburg Test: “ fashioned the principle that the constitutional guarantees of free
speech and press do not permit a state to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force
or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing
imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”
911 Terrorist Attacks have renewed the call to limit the free speech and
press of some who hold unpopular ideas
Review Questions
How does freedom of expression
contribute to individual liberty and good
2. What forms of expression does the First
Amendment protect?
3. What are time, place and manner
4. How might new forms of communication,
such as the Internet, give rise to important
First Amendment issues?