Censorship disputes that center on violence are usually based on the notion that violent content in popular entertainment – from books to movies to video games trivialize violence or desensitize viewers to its effects. Unlike obscenity however, the U.S. Supreme Court has never treated violent content as an exception to First Amendment protection, even though the opportunity has presented itself several times to the Court.

The Court considered violence in popular entertainment in 1948 in Winters v. New York, and provided that such material is fully protected by the First Amendment regardless of its social worth. The Court rejected the idea that First Amendment protections only apply to “worthy” material or to “the exposition of ideas,” and stated instead that the “line between the informing and the entertaining is too elusive for the protection of that basic right.”

Even in the more extreme case involving speech that advocates violence, the Court has refused to administer penalties unless the speech in question constitutes actual incitement to lawless action where the threat to public safety is imminent.