Challenging the First Amendment
“If men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter which may involve the more serious and alarming consequences that can invite the consideration of mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of speech may be taken away, and dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” - George Washington, March 15, 1783.
Unlike any other nation, Americans enjoy nearly unbridled freedom of speech. Through numerous decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that only “at risk speech” is not protected by the First Amendment. Such at risk speech has been defined as libel, words immediately jeopardizing national security, words likely to incite imminent violence and obscenity but not indecent material.
Furthermore, the First Amendment does not guarantee a citizen the right to speak freely in any setting. Employers, for example, may restrict speech, as may schools and other organizations. Online forums regularly restrict speech. Government may limit speech under certain conditions. For instance, a judge will not tolerate unrestricted speech in the courtroom nor will a mayor allow spectators to speak at will. On the other hand, free speech is allowed in a “traditional public forum;” that is, public land traditionally used by the public to meet, speak and protest. A “designated public forum” is a place a government body opens to the public for a limited time and purpose.