Limits of Free Speech

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Freedom of speech is what makes us proud to be an American. The freedom to think, speak and protest as we please. The freedom of speech is as dynamic as our use of the language. Just what is protected under the first amendment? To understand what is protected under the first amendment we have to look at how it is written in the constitution.

Congress cannot abridge a person's "freedom of speech." In other words Congress can restrict what you say but it cannot stop you from saying it. (Kersch 3) "If, for example, a citizen hates the president's policies on education or health care and makes a verbal threat to assassinate him, he is summarily arrested. He might plead freedom of speech, but he will not have a chance in court because although forbidding threats on the president's life is a restriction on speech, it is not a restriction on the freedom of speech. One has no freedom to threaten to kill the president." "In short, the speech of Americans is and always has been abridged in many ways. It is only their freedom of speech that is protected. And just what constitutes freedom of speech has changed over time." (Kersch 4)

What exactly is protected today? Hate speech language that offends individuals by attacking their race, ethnicity, sex, age, religion etc. We don't want hate in our society, so why not ban all speech that comes from the KKK or Neo-Nazis or homophobes? Even though their language may be ugly and of no value at all to our society it protected under the first amendment. States although do have laws against "hate crimes" which stems from "hate speech." Here are some court cases that may help us to define hate speech.

In 1971, Cohan v. California, Mr. Cohan walked through a courthouse with a jacket that read "Fuck the draft." Mr. Cohan was convicted on a California law that prohibited "maliciously and willfully disturbing the peace or quite of any neighborhood or person…by…offensive conduct." (Kersch 328) The Supreme Court later reversed the...
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