United States Case Law on Freedom of Expression

Speech that is not protected under the First Amendment
  • Obscenity: "If a state obscenity law is [appropriately] limited, First Amendment values are adequately protected by ultimate independent appellate review of constitutional claims when necessary." Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973).
  • Defamation: "[I]t is recognized that punishment for the abuse of the liberty accorded to the press is essential to the protection of the public, and that the common-law rules that subject the libeler to responsibility for the public offense, as well as for the private injury, are not abolished by the protection extended in our Constitutions." Near v. State of Minnesota Ex Rel. Olson, 283 U.S. 697 (1931).
  • Causing panic: "The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic." Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919).
  • Fighting words: The U.S. Supreme Court held that the First Amendment does not protect "fighting words -- those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace." Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568 (1942).
  • Sedition: "We reject any principle of governmental helplessness in the face of preparation for revolution, which principle, carried to its logical conclusion, must lead to anarchy. No one could conceive that it is not within the power of Congress to prohibit acts intended to overthrow the Government by force and violence." Dennis v. United States, 341 U.S. 494 (1951), where one of the "acts" which the Court found the government could prohibit was to knowingly and willfully "advocate and teach the duty and necessity of overthrowing and destroying the Government of the United States by force and violence."
Other Cases