Freedom of Speech vs Platform to Insult

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Freedom’s Just Another Word for….

If you are a U.S. citizen you have the right to voice your opinion.  There are many ways to do so, with words or your actions.  Civil Rights law describes, “Speech” as all kinds of expression.  However the United States Constitution, and the way the it’s been applied by courts, includes some exceptions.  Depending on how your words or actions affect others could mean your “Speech” may not always be protected. 

If you yell vulgar words from your driveway and all your neighbors can hear chances are your local authorities will charge you with disorderly conduct or disrupting the peace.  You can’t claim the First Amendment for protection.  Anytime your behavior is offensive to a reasonable person and has no value to society. Sometimes there’s a fine line when you consider obscenity and certain arts, but art is a benefit to society.  A work of art can depend on a person’s preference.

Prove What You Say
There is no protection under the United States Constitution and you have no right to freedom of speech if you are telling lies.  If you tell lies about someone you can be held accountable for slander, if you print lies or broadcast it libel has occurred. Broadcast can include speaking in a public place if the speech is being recorded for later distribution or broadcast live.  The First Amendment does not protect you when it comes to slander and libel. The person you lied about can sue you in civil court. If the person does sue usually they must prove that you acted in a deliberate attempt to cause harm, that you did cause harm, and that you have no proof that your statement is true.

You Can’t Incite Trouble
You cannot incite trouble or hurt people.  “Fighting words” are against the law.   You are not protected if you abuse someone verbally, or use words to rile up a group.   Legally you can be criminally charged for your conduct.   You cannot claim that you are “exercising your constitutional rights”. In 1942, the U.S. Supreme Court added “incitement” to things not covered by freedom of speech.

When You Do Not Know
You cannot exhibit behavior targeting a general group and be protected by the First Amendment. You have a right to express a dislike for any group of people, whether it’s a race, a religious group, or any others, but you can’t cross a line that could cause someone else to act out against the group or in other words you have “incited” them.  You cannot make hateful comments to someone else, one on one, or comments directed at someone, these are considered fighting words and are not protected.

The law regarding a U.S. citizen’s right to freedom of speech is complicated. When you decide to attack someone or a group,  personally or professionally, and hide behind your “Freedom of Speech” simply using this as an excuse to behave in any manner you choose, saying whatever you wish, whether you have facts or just start rambling with rhetoric,  the truth will usually shine through.  A good rule to follow:  Is it true?  Is it helpful?  Is it inspiring?  Is it necessary?  Is it kind?  And of course I always like to add, “Is it going to cause you to end up on the losing end in Court?”  Our advice- when in doubt consult an attorney before you need to hire one.

  • Freedom of Speech is not a license to abuse.  It is a responsibility.


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