First Amendment ~ Freedom of Speech

Kristeen Irigoyen-Hernandez aka Lady2Soothe


Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the freedom of speech, religion and the press. It also protects the right to peaceful protest and to petition the government. The amendment was adopted in 1791 along with nine other amendments which make up the Bill of Rights, a written document protecting civil liberties under U.S. law. The meaning of the First Amendment has been a subject of continuing interpretation and dispute over the years. Landmark Supreme Court cases have dealt with the right of citizens to protest U.S. involvement in foreign wars, flag burning and the publication of classified government documents. The Supreme Court has also written this freedom is “the matrix, the indispensable condition of nearly every other form of freedom.”

Freedom of speech is the right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint. It’s a principle supporting the freedom of an individual or a community to articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship, or sanction.

Although the term “freedom of expression” is sometimes used it includes any act of seeking, receiving, and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used. Freedom of expression is recognized as a human right under article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and recognized in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 19 of the UDHR states “everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice”.

Freedom of speech and expression, therefore, may not be recognized as being absolute, and common limitations to legal systems sometimes recognize certain limits on the freedom of speech, particularly when freedom of speech conflicts with other rights and freedoms, such as in the cases of defamation (including libel and slander), obscenity, pornography, sedition, incitement, fighting words, true threats, solicitations to commit crimes, blackmail, classified information, copyright violation, trade secrets, food labeling, non-disclosure agreements, the right to privacy, the right to be forgotten, public security, and perjury.


1. Not to speak (specifically, the right not to salute the flag).
2. Of students to wear black armbands to school to protest a war (“Students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate.”).
3. To use certain offensive words and phrases to convey political messages.
4. To contribute money (under certain circumstances) to political campaigns.
5. To advertise commercial products and professional services (with some restrictions).
6. To engage in symbolic speech, (e.g., burning the flag in protest).


1. Incite actions which would harm others (Shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater)
2. Make or distribute obscene materials.
3. Burn draft cards as an anti-war protest.
4. Advocating illegal drug use
5. Plotting to overthrow the government
6. Lying under oath in a court of law
7. Publish dishonest advertisements
8. As an employee, you have no free-speech rights at your workplace
9. Shows clear intent to discriminate or sexually harass
10. Discussing medical or financial confidential information outside of work

Censoring disturbing or even offensive speech, especially in art and literature, often violates not only the intentions or spirit of the speaker, writer or artist but suggests a willful lack of understanding of language itself: the ambiguity of words and images, as well as the role of context in determining meaning.

Random House Unabridged Dictionary

Hate speech is “speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, threatens, incites discrimination, hatred, or maliciously slurs, defames or is likely to promote violence.”

Hate speech is usually treated as protected free speech unless it is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to produce or incite such action. The Supreme Court has protected the rights of Nazis, anti-Semites, cross-burning Klansmen and an anti-gay Baptist sect to openly denigrate others. The only restrictions, to quote from one Supreme Court decision, are for speech “likely to produce a clear and present danger of a serious substantive evil that rises far above public inconvenience, annoyance, or unrest”

IN CLOSING ~ Some people are offended by truth because of its very nature; however, truth is exclusive and it is absolute, not relative. The absolute nature of truth means it does not depend on, nor is it changed by people’s opinions. Of course people are not always going to agree on everything, as humans we’re entitled to a difference of opinion. It’s up to us as individuals to accept this information. We don’t have to agree with it, but we have to accept there is a different perspective. You never know, a point may be made you hadn’t considered and it might even change all or part of your view. This is how we grow and evolve.

Please remember, a right is one thing, but the freedom to exercise it is something entirely different, and just because we have the right to freedom of speech doesn’t mean we should intentionally offend in order to make our own selves heard. Let’s give ourselves permission to communicate in a concise, direct, comprehensible way by clearly articulating our point without acquiescing to adolescent invectives as we all need to be able to freely acquire and interchange information, be the keepers of our own consciences, and speak out when needed, either individually or as part of a group. If we try to be respectful of each other and their opinions, we can have some great discussions.

~ Kristeen Irigoyen-Hernandez

Kristeen Irigoyen-Hernandez
Human Rights Advocate, Researcher/Chronological Archivist and member in good standing with the Constitution First Amendment Press Association (

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