The United States Constitution protects citizens’ abilities to express themselves freely. However, this right is not absolute.
The First Amendment does not cover certain types of speech, and such expressions can lead to criminal consequences. Before a person claims the right to say something in the name of free speech, the individual should understand the term’s meaning and its limits.
The Constitution protects political speech, religious speech and the expression of artistic or literary ideas. The Supreme Court also holds that the law protects symbolic speech.
Essentially, any speech that is central to the nation’s brand of democracy has protection in the courts. Thus, inflammatory speech others consider offensive or disagreeable often has legal protection.
The law does not protect other types of speech, such as the following:
- Defamation and fraud
- Child pornography
- Incitement to violence
- True threats of violence
Fighting words, or an incitement to violence, generally refer to expressions that would likely provoke a physical altercation. Defamation and fraud occur when someone makes a false statement about another to harm a reputation. Additionally, the law does not protect genuine threats, which can be terroristic.
Other misconceptions surround free speech in the workplace. Private employers have some rights to regulate their employees’ speech, even away from work. However, the employer cannot do so in a discriminatory way or if they violate related laws in doing so.
While citizens of the United States have broad protections regarding freedom of speech, there are still some limits to what people can say without facing the consequences. Knowing what types of speech the law does not protect is vital to avoid unnecessary difficulties.