The “freedom of speech” is something Americans value and often turn to as a defense when their statements are questioned. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech…” Many people may interpret this as giving them the right to say whatever they desire, without consequence.
The United States Supreme Court, however, has outlined certain limits to speech. For example, the Supreme Court ruled that the “freedom of speech” does not include the right:
- To make or distribute obscene materials;
- To burn draft cards as an anti-war protest;
- To permit students to print articles in a school newspaper over the objections of the school administration;
- Of students to make an obscene speech at a school-sponsored event; or
- Of students to advocate illegal drug use at a school-sponsored event.
Additionally, Courts have held that the “freedom of speech” does not include the right to incite actions that would harm others (such as yelling “fire” in a crowded theater) or to make threats intended to frighten or intimidate a person into believing they will be seriously harmed. In Minnesota, there is a law that labels this speech as “threats of violence” and makes it a felony to make such statements. If you are convicted of this crime, you may be sentenced to imprisonment for up to five years and/or sentenced to pay a fine of up to $10,000.
The next time you get into a heated argument, remember that your speech may not be protected by the First Amendment if you threaten violence or intend to terrorize others. Furthermore, even if your speech does not fall into a category that is considered “unprotected,” the First Amendment does not mean you are protected from consequences imposed by non-governmental entities such as your employer.