“Speech” has been broadly defined by the courts to include not only verbal expression, but also visual art, music, theater, dance, and other expressive conduct and non-verbal forms of communication. However, First Amendment rights are not absolute, and have some exceptions. Unprotected speech includes:
- Incitement to illegal activity and/or imminent violence;
- Defamation and libel;
- Threats and intimidation; and
- False advertising.
Government suppression of otherwise legal speech can be justified only if the government can advance a compelling reason. For example, national security concerns might justify suppression of an article describing military strategy in wartime. More often, free speech cases involve claims that government regulations are vague or overly broad, or that the government is engaging in viewpoint discrimination – trying to suppress speech because of opposition to the message it conveys. As this website details, different forms of expression are protected to varying degrees, often depending on where the expression occurs, and whether the regulation is formulated or applied to affect the content or viewpoint of the speech in that forum.
These materials are not intended, and should not be used, as legal advice. They necessarily contain generalizations that are not applicable in all jurisdictions or circumstances. Moreover, court decisions may be superceded by subsequent rulings, and may be subject to alternative interpretations. Corrections, clarification, and additions are welcome. Please send to firstname.lastname@example.org.