Does Freedom of Speech Have Limits in the USA? Yes!

On May 4, 2015, we awoke to the news that a Draw Muhammad event in Garland, Texas was interrupted by a wannabe terrorist attack of two that was promptly squashed by the heavily armed security forces at the auditorium. Freedom of Speech was saved once again, qqstamp much as it was when Neo-Nazis marched among Holocaust survivors and the Ku Klux Klan marched somewhere before illegal acts of violence and death. Then we have that Westboro Baptist church that seems to hate the US military and gays. The Garland event disturbed me on a personal level because I substitute taught in that school district happily for over five years, often in Bilingual Elementary. A saddened Garland resident noted that the Islamophobic event only drew 200 people in a city of 234,000-just east of Dallas. quickstamp

Now we can’t cry “Fire!” in a crowded theater when there is none, nor create child pornography, so there are some limits. Are there any others? I decided to to an Internet search and go to a Wikipedia sites first.

“Fighting Words” is “speech that tends to incite an immediate breach of the peace” by provoking a fight. Personally abusive words are inherently likely to cause a violent reaction… a personal insult. Importantly, this charge is limited to private figures. Thus, I was within my rights when I yelled an expletive and “got in someone’s face” for his wearing of a Ho Chi Minh T-shirt in a public place. As a former ESOL teacher for South Vietnamese POW’s, I was incensed to see somebody proclaim the dictator of North Vietnam. I’m sure an older man who was a Vietnam War veteran would have behaved in a similar, if more violent, manner. However, quickstamp my rage soon turned to sadness at the subsequent childish ramblings of my much younger and otherwise likable acquaintance.

The “Fighting Words” limit was upheld in the Supreme Court in the Chaplinsky vs. New Hampshire, 1942 verdict. Chief Justice Frank Murphy upheld the arrest of a Jehovah Witness sidewalk preacher, who called his arresting officer a (bleep) racketeer and damned fascist while organized religion is a racket. Such fighting words neither contributed to the expression of idea nor something of value in the search for the truth. Note that these fascist accusations occurred at the peak of World War II! more visit sites>


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