Right/Freedom of Expression/History

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Freedom of Expression

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What is the oldest source in any country that mentions this right? 🖉 edit

The ancient Greeks within the Athenian Democracy, using the words “parrhesia” and “isegoria” (dating back to the fifth century BCE) were the first to emphasize the freedom to speak candidly and to "say what one pleased" a subset of freedom of the future declaration of freedom of expression (Bejan 2019, 97). The freedom of expression is imperative to democracy as it “refers to the ability of an individual or group of individuals to express their beliefs, thoughts, ideas, and emotions about different issues free from government censorship” (Freedom Forum Institute 2020). From the ancient Greeks, “Parrhesia” specifically describes the freedom to say whatever one pleased, and a similar idea describing freedom of expression, “isegoria,” describes the right of citizens to publicly address and debate against the democratic assembly (Lu 2017, 4). “Isegoria” is derived from the root word “agora” which translates to marketplace, and thus the meaning of this version of freedom of expression addresses that of public speech. This right to “isegoria” was more heavily based in the ideas of equality of all men to have access to the government than for the principles of freedom (Bejan 2019, 99). On the other hand, “parrhesia” held a broader meaning. This idea is more about the right to speak freely or frankly. This word implies a willingness of the speaker to be open, honest, and courageous in dealing with the consequences of the sometimes controversial truth which he spoke while those who listened had to tolerate any offense taken from the speaker. Because of the courage and privilege necessary in truly enjoying “parrhesia,” it describes a form of licensed privilege. After the collapse of the Athenian democracy, however, the fundamental ideas of “parrhesia” are the more common and practiced bases of freedom of expression today in documents such as the American Constitution. “Isegoria” on the other hand took on the form of freedom of speech and debate within the legislative houses of government such as British Parliament and American Congress.


On Misconceptions Generated By Translating Parrhesia and Isegoria as “Freedom of Speech,” Chin-Yu Ginny Lu, 4, The University of Arizona, 2017 Tucson.

Two Concept of Freedom (Of Speech), Teressa M. Bejan, 97-99, Oxford University, 2019 Oxford.

What is Freedom of Expression, Freedom Forum Institute Editors, Freedom Forum Institute, 2020 Washington D.C.

What historical forces or events, if any, contributed to a widespread belief in its importance? 🖉 edit

Debates and movements for the protection of freedom of expression are a recent development that “scarcely arose before the revolutions of the eighteenth century" (Zoller 2009, 803). But one can see that it is frequently in response to oppressive governmental measures that opposition arises to promote freedom of expression for democratic society and its citizens from external censorship. The intended outcome of these revolutions was to ensure the citizen’s right “to freely speak one's mind, represent one's viewpoint, defend one's opinions, communicate one's ideas… without fear for life, liberty, or possessions, but with peace of mind and a firm certainty of freedom from government harassment…” (Zoller 2009, 803). There are five notable historical movements and events that helped contribute to the widespread belief of freedom of expression as a fundamental right: the Enlightenment, The American and French Revolutions, the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the Arab Spring.


The promotion of freedom of expression as a universal right was first established by the philosophes of the Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries. Frederick of Prussia, Immanuel Kant, and Johann Gottlieb Fichte all wrote on the idea of freedom of expression, especially in how it relates to free thought and opinion. James Schmidt quoted Immanuel Kant in support of the claim that freedom of thought, however praiseworthy in its own right, is much more valuable when informed by the thoughts of others: “‘… but how much and how accurately would we think if we did not think, so to speak, in community with others to whom we communicate our thoughts and who communicate their thoughts to us!’” (Schmidt [quoting Kant] 1996, 30). Agreeing with this sentiment, Frederick of Prussia also expressed his wish “to rule over a noble, brave, freethinking people, a people that has the power and liberty to think and to act, to write and to speak, to win or to die” (Schmidt [quoting Frederick of Prussia] 1996, 89). At this point in history, freedom of expression, especially in a monarchical context, became a key component of Enlightenment thought, as it was determined that the right to possess and share one’s opinions was the mark of a civilized society.


Building upon Enlightenment philosophies, freedom of expression (or the lack thereof) played central roles in the American and French Revolutions of the late 18th centuries. However, how freedom of expression was expressed in each case manifested very differently.

In America, "as taxes were imposed without their consent, colonists believed their freedom of expression and representation was violated. Protests, petitions, and gatherings were quickly put down by government officials. Freedom of expression, speech, and the press were punishable and denied to many" (Charkins et. Al 2019, 35). The repression of what the colonists believed to be a fundamental right only exacerbated the situation and eventually led them to demand “the formation of a government that would promise protection of those inherent liberties" via the American Revolution (Pomerance 2016, 112). After the war, this eventually prompted the ratification of the First Amendment to the Constitution that confirmed that “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” (U.S. Constitution, 1791).

Conversely, while American efforts came from an institutionalized lack of freedom, the French struggle came from a surprising decision from King Louis XVI. In 1789, when he called a meeting of the Estates General, he began by “suspending censorship of publications, even allowing writings that criticized the monarchy…" (Pomerance 2016, 114). This afforded French people freedom of expression to a degree they had never seen before, and soon newspapers and pamphlets across France were calling for a democratic overhaul of the whole country. This top-down decision from the King paved a slightly untraditional path to revolution, especially in contrast to the Americans who were denied freedom of expression from their government. Louis had opened the floodgates, and just months after the first meeting, “there was little doubt that free speech and expression were high on the list of demands from the Frenchmen calling for change” (Pomerance 2016, 117). These sentiments were eventually listed in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, in Articles 10 and 11 which state that “no one may be disturbed on account of his opinions, even religious ones, as long as the manifestation of such opinions does not interfere with the established Law and Order,” and “the free communication of ideas and of opinions is one of the most precious rights of man. Any citizen may therefore speak, write and publish freely, except what is tantamount to the abuse of this liberty in the cases determined by Law" (“Declaration of the Rights of Man”).


International protections of fundamental rights did not emerge until the late 20th century in response to the “barbarous acts” of World War II (Amnesty International). And in response to these acts, it became a goal of the newly founded United Nations to set a global standard for freedom and justice for everyone, regardless of nationality or citizenship. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted in 1948 and establishes a comprehensive list of rights and liberties that everyone is entitled to. Freedom of expression is guaranteed by Article 19 which states that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers” (United Nations 1948). While the UDHR is not a legally binding document, it was the first international agreement focused on the protection of basic human rights and freedoms.


The fall of the Berlin Wall was a major turning point in the history of freedom of expression and its applications. During the Cold War, Europe was split between a democratic West and a communist East, with a physical manifestation of this divide erected in Berlin by the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). Many basic freedoms and liberties were suppressed in the Eastern Bloc, and “human rights violations in East Germany centered mainly on freedom of movement, expression and association” (Human Rights Watch 1989). Before the fall, “the potential to express dissidence… [marked] the border between East and West," but after, East Berliners used their restored freedoms to express their opinions without fear of retribution (Zoller 2009, 806). The fall of the Berlin Wall was a major win for universal human rights, and it marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War that inspired similar democratic movements across the Eastern Bloc that eventually led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.


Applications of human rights and freedoms will have to continue to adapt to societal changes. As recently seen with the Arab Spring uprisings, widespread access to the internet and social media channels that now allow near total freedom of expression on a global scale has reshaped how one can utilize this freedom for the promotion of democracy, but it has also raised questions as to how parameters of this right should be drawn in instances of dangerous or harmful views. Before the rise of the internet, “discussions focused on the idea of what a man was allowed to utter or write when he found himself to be at odds with an established orthodoxy…", but now, it is imperative that “national legislations should envisage legal instruments to carefully limit its application (when abusive), in those situations in which free speech becomes an obstacle for the free exercise of other fundamental rights” as free speech and expression can be shared on an international level (Racolța 2019, 8, 15). Although freedom of expression is now an expected right of democratic societies, it remains at the forefront of international discussions to determine how to both ensure the right itself for people deprived of it and to also protect people from abuses of free expression. 


Charkins, Jim, Michelle Herczog, and Thomas Herman. “Breaking Down the Silos: The American Revolution--A Story Well Told.” Social Studies Review 58 (January 2019): 25–42. https://search-ebscohost-com.uc.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eft&AN=154271093&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

“Declaration of the Rights of Man.” Avalon Project. Accessed June 16, 2023. https://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/rightsof.asp.

“EAST GERMANY.” Human Rights Watch World Report, 1989. https://www.hrw.org/reports/1989/WR89/Eastgerm.htm.

Pomerance, Benjamin. “First In, First Out: Promises and Problems of Free Expression in Revolutionary and Post-Revolutionary Governments.” Maryland Journal of International Law 31, no. 1 (January 2016): 107–79. https://search-ebscohost-com.uc.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=122460887&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

Racolța, Remus, and Andreea Verteș-Olteanu. 2019. “Freedom of Expression. Some Considerations for the Digital Age.” Jus et Civitas VI (LXX) (1): 7–16. https://search-ebscohost-com.uc.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=139539130&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

Schmidt, James. What Is Enlightenment?: Eighteenth-Century Answers and Twentieth-Century Questions. Philosophical Traditions. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996. https://search-ebscohost-com.uc.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=4657&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

“Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Amnesty International, April 11, 2023. https://www.amnesty.org/en/what-we-do/universal-declaration-of-human-rights/#:~:text=The%20UDHR%20was%20adopted%20by,for%20freedom%2C%20justice%20and%20peace.

United Nations General Assembly. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). New York: United Nations General Assembly, 1948.

Zoller, Elisabeth. "Foreword: Freedom of Expression: Precious Right in Europe, Sacred Right in the United States," Indiana Law Journal 84, no. 3 (Summer 2009): 803-808

What is the oldest written source in this country that mentions this right?


Afghanistan 🖉 edit

In Afghanistan's 2004 constitution Article 34 explicitly protects the freedom of expression. With every Afghan having the right to “express through speech, writing, illustrations as well as other means in accordance with the provisions of the constitution.”

“Afghanistan 2004 Constitution.” Constitute. https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Afghanistan_ 2004? lang=en.

Albania 🖉 edit

The Albanian constitution uses article 22 to guarantee the freedom of expression. This has been the case since the constitution was ratified in 1998.

“Albania 1998 (Rev. 2016) Constitution.” Constitute. Accessed September 14, 2022. https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Albania_2016?lang=en.

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Andorra 🖉 edit

The Andorran constitution ensures freedom of expression and the freedom to share information in the 12th article of their constitution. This right was codified in 1993 and includes a prohibition on public censorship.

“Andorra 1993 Constitution.” Constitute. Accessed September 14, 2022. https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Andorra_1993?lang=en.

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Argentina 🖉 edit

In Argentina the 1853 constitution laid the groundwork for freedom of expression. However, The 1983 reinstatement of the constitution brought with it more explicit definitions of the freedom of expression in found in article 14 of the nation's constitution.

“Argentina 1853 (Reinst. 1983, Rev. 1994) Constitution.” Constitute. Accessed September 14, 2022. https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Argentina_1994?lang=en.

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Australia 🖉 edit

The Constitution does not explicitly protect freedom of expression, but in 1992 the High Court of Australia ruled in favor of political expression, setting a precedent and implying protection of freedom of expression.

“Freedom of Information, Opinion and Expression.” The Australian Human Rights Commission. Accessed September 14, 2022. https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/rights-and-freedoms/freedom-information-opinion-and-expression.

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Brazil 🖉 edit

The Brazilian constitution included the fundamental freedom of expression in the seventh constitution of Brazil in 1988. While later amendments would change the constitution the freedom of expression has remained constant.

“Federal Supreme Court Constitution - Stf.jus.br.” Accessed September 14, 2022. https://www.stf.jus.br/arquivo/cms/legislacaoConstituicao/anexo/brazil_federal_constitution.pdf.

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Canada 🖉 edit

In Canada the "Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms" of 1982 a part of the Canadian constitution that set in stone the fundamental rights and freedoms afforded to all Canadians. It is proceeded by the Constitution of Canada adopted in 1867, but the constitution makes no such explicit protection for the freedom of expression.

Heritage, Canadian. “Government of Canada.” Canada.ca. / Gouvernement du Canada, March 24, 2022. Last modified March 24, 2022. Accessed September 20, 2022. https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/services/how-rights-protected/guide-canadian-charter-rights-freedoms.html.

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China 🖉 edit

The Constitution of the People’s Republic of China ( 1982)

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Denmark 🖉 edit

Denmark has protected freedom of expression since their 1953 constitution was adopted.

“Denmark's Constitution of 1953 - Constituteproject.org.” 2022. Accessed September 28. https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Denmark_1953.pdf?lang=en&lang=en.

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Is the identification of this right associated with a particular era in history, political regime, or political leader? 🖉 edit

Freedom of expression is a relatively new term, however, not a new concept. For much of its history, the individual freedoms covered under freedom of expression were established in isolated contexts throughout time and eventually translated into this overarching concept of freedom of expression. The identification of this freedom is a product of many contributions over several centuries, resulting in associations to multiple eras and contributors: yet remaining limited to being a fundamental element of democratic regimes. The composition of freedom of expression possesses two elements associated with the present-day interpretation. The first element is the origins of the foundational freedoms covered under the overall “Freedom of expression.” The second element is the transition from individual freedoms to the broader notion of expression. Today, it is universally understood that freedom of expression includes freedom of speech and freedom of the press. While freedom of speech has origins in ancient Greece through the concept of Parrhêsia, (Konstan, 2012, 1), freedom of the press and expression have a significant concrete appearance through the works of John Milton in Areopagitica(1644). In the book Free Speech and Democracy in Ancient Athens, Arlene Saxonhouse discusses how Milton “Protests the licensing of books and the governmental restraints thereby placed on free expression in published works… Milton argues in a series of allusions to the world of ancient Athens, tying Milton to the values expressed by the ancient Athenian, connecting freedom of speech to human virtue and political freedom’’ (Saxonhouse 2005, 20). The next significant development to freedom of expression was the ratification of the Bill of Rights into the U.S. Constitution; a document that drew inspiration from the English Magna Carta (1215). Although the Magna Carta did not explicitly mention free speech, it did guarantee certain liberties that would be conceptualized into modern democracy and go on to inspire the Bill of Rights, i.e The First Amendment (WEX Definitions Team, 2020). Thus, The First Amendment became an important development in what would come to be called freedom of expression. However, it wouldn't be until 1948 that “freedom of expression” was officially coined and universally recognized. Following World War II, freedom of information was declared a fundamental human right but the language of “freedom of expression” was not agreed upon until it was drafted and entered into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 by an American committee (Kleinwächter, 2022). Between The First Amendment and Universal Declaration of Human Rights, innovations such as the telegraph and radio broadcasting proposed new obstacles to information sharing beyond borders. This led to multiple treaties and conventions discussing the censoring of content shared internationally, thus challenging freedom of speech and press, however, no explicit mention of freedom of expression was mentioned in these international treaties(Kleinwächter, 2022). Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this includes the right to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information through any media regardless of frontiers.” It was here that the individual freedoms within the First Amendment translated into the united concept of “freedom of expression” and then became internationally recognized into law through the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1966 with the same language used in Article 19 (Kleinwächter, 2022). With a long evolution and multiple developments contributing to the concept today, the identification of this freedom is not limited to a single era, but rather significant to several. .. The associations of these eras parallel the significance of the identification of this freedom in relation to a specific type of regime. These dates, as well as the overall notion of this freedom, are important to the development and expansion of democracy and democratic institutions. This element of democracy facilitates open debate, proper consideration of different perspectives, and the negotiation and compromise necessary for consensual policy decisions (Freedom House, 2023). Without this freedom, true democracy would not exist as “the suppression of ideas is inconsistent with the concept that a democratic society bases its decisions on full and open discussion of all points of view (Bogen, 1983, 464).” Expressing content or discontent for a government, policy, or principle, as well as proposing solutions or critiques, amongst expressions of other topics, allows for the democratic process to function for its intended purpose and is profoundly within the right of an individual to do so as a protected human right. Unlike the association to a single regime type, this freedom is not limited to a single political leader. Instead, multiple figures, often not in positions of leadership, opposed the censoring of opinions and ideas, and acted as the main contributors to the expansion of freedom of expression. Those who drafted the Magna Carta opposed the monarchy of King John; Milton opposed government censorship, and the Framers of the Constitution opposed absolute power by a single ruler. All of these developments over time resulted in the association to several contributors who led us to the contemporary understanding of this freedom. This long evolutionary process with collaborative efforts from key points and figures throughout history has resulted in the identification of this right being tied to multiple eras and figures, yet to only one regime type.


Konstan, David. 2012. “The Two Faces of Parrhêsia: Free Speech and Self-Expression in Ancient Greece.” Antichthon 46. Cambridge University Press: 1–13. doi:10.1017/S0066477400000125.

Saxonhouse, Arlene W. 2005. Free Speech and Democracy in Ancient Athens. Cambridge University Press. 11-37

WEX Definitions Team. 2020 “Magna Carta.” LII / Legal Information Institute. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/magna_carta#:~:text=The%20writers%20of%20the%20Bill.

Bogen, David S. 1983. “The Origins of Freedom of Speech and Press” 42. Maryland Law Review. 429-465. https://digitalcommons.law.umaryland.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2503&context=mlr

Freedom House. “Freedom of Expression.” 2023. https://freedomhouse.org/issues/freedom-expression

Kleinwächter, Wolfgang. 2022. “A History of the Right to Freedom of Expression.” Observer Research Foundation. https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/a-history-of-the-right-to-freedom-of-expression/

Is there another noteworthy written source from the past that mentions this right? 🖉 edit

This right is mentioned in several historical noteworthy written sources, some of which include John Locke's extremely influential and fundamental Second Treatise of Government. Along that same vein, noted philosophers have written commentaries on laws, freedoms, and political theory; these include works by Michael Foucault, particularly in his lecture series at Berkeley, Montesquieu in his commentary the Spirit of the Laws, Sir William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England, and John Stuart Mill's noteworthy work On Liberty.

Many international treaties, charters, and conventions also work to avidly incorporate the freedom of expression in its foundations. The UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.


John Locke, Second Treatise of Government

What specific events or ideas contributed to its identification as a fundamental right? 🖉 edit

The expression of thoughts, ideas, art, entertainment, and more started long before their rights were explicitly proclaimed or protected. The oldest piece of art archeologists have discovered dates back 45,000 years (Cascone, 2021). Archeologists have found objects from 400,000 years ago that “would probably have required a level of symbolic communication close to that of language.” Hunter gatherer societies had religion of their own (Peoples et al., 263, 2016). But while humans have been expressing themselves for millennia, the protection of their expression has not always been existent – especially when the content of their expression offends or hurts another party in some way. David Konstan cited Arnaldo Momigliano, who explained: “In the second part of the fifth century and during the greater part of the fourth century every Athenian citizen had the right to speak [in the assembly] unless he disqualified himself by certain specified crimes.’ This freedom was, according to Momigliano, ‘an Athenian fifth-century idea’, and the term that best expressed it was parrhêsi” (Konstan, 1, 2012). However, as David Konstan argues, parrhesia was less of a “right” and more of a “license to express one’s views, whatever the context.” Athenian citizens understood it as “an expectation, a feature of social life.” Konstan compares the ideal to an American citizen who proclaims “This is a free country, isn’t it?” in response to “an attempt to silence them” (Konstan, 4, 2012). However, as evidenced by the trial of Socrates, this ideal is not always protected by law when the idea contradicts beliefs espoused by the community – for Socrates’ case, questioning the gods and thus “corrupting the youth.” On this trial, some “authors affirm the view of Athens as fundamentally tolerant, with Socrates’ trial, ‘the decision to prosecute an old man for saying and doing what he had been saying and doing for so many years,’ as an aberration, perhaps brought about by ‘the wounds of recent history’”, the recent history being the violent tyranny of the Thirty set in place by the victorious Spartans after the Peloponnesian War (Saxonhouse, 102, 2006). Socrates’ teaching of Critias caused a stir in Athens, likely contributing to his prosecution more on his association rather than the content of the expression itself. The events of the Enlightenment were essential to rights themselves and the development of expression among them. Expression can be understood as the dissemination of someone’s thoughts, thus touching on the ideals of individual ownership of self and self-agency. Locke defines freedom in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding as the “Power in any Agent to do or forbear any particular action, according to the determination or thought of the mind, whereby either of them is preferred to the other” (Locke, 303, 1690). Voltaire was one of the more prolific writers of the era, consistently firing back publicly and publishing satires. He was one of the most influential thinkers in the Enlightenment because of his willingness to challenge the status quo and stretch speech rights into the categories of the offensive, which inspired critique and dissension from others. In one of his dialogues, Voltaire said, “People say stupid and insulting things, but must speaking be forbidden? Everybody can write what they think in my country at their own risk…If it finds that you have spoken foolishly, it boos you; if seditiously, it punishes you; if wisely and nobly, it loves you and rewards you…Without the freedom to explain what one thinks, there is no freedom among men” (Voltaire, 140, 1994). The Enlightenment transformed the conception of rights for the Western world, and led ultimately to the important declarations of the rights to expression found in revolutionary documents. The first guarantee of expression was speech in the English Bill of Rights of 1689. Among the guarantees were rights found in the American First Amendment, including “the right to petition and freedom of speech and debate” (Vile, “English Bill of Rights”, 2009). The Massachusetts Body of Liberties in 1641 and the adoption of the Virginia Bill of Rights were early American colonial legislatures’ expression of the rights of free press and speech (FIRE, “History of Free Speech”, 2022). The first 10 amendments to the Constitution of the United States include the First Amendment – that “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” (National Archives, “The Bill of Rights: A Transcription”, 2023). All of these are tenets of free expression – they protect the people from prosecution of the state for expression or behaviors that counter state interests. In France, similar revolutionary ideals took form in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen in 1789, which states that “No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law” (Yale Law Library, “Declaration of the Rights of Man – 1789”, 2008). These early expressions of the law include important things – that the government cannot restrict it, but most agreed that there are circumstances where free expression does not apply. To understand the idea of free expression, it is important to understand accepted exceptions to the expressed First Amendment right. Among these, the government has permitted laws which prohibit certain types of speech in specific times, places, and locations – such as imposing limits on the noise level of speech, capping the number of protesters who may occupy a given forum, barring early-morning or late-evening demonstrations, and restricting the size or placement of signs on government property” (O’Neill, “Time, Place, Manner Restrictions”). Any restriction of this kind has to pass “a three-prong test outlined by the Supreme Court in Ward v. Rock Against Racism (1989)…The regulation must be content neutral…It must be narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest…It must leave open ample alternative channels for communicating the speaker’s message.” In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that New York City officials could control the volume of amplified music at rock concerts in Central Park without violating the First Amendment” (Hudson, “Ward v. Rock against Racism, 2009). The government may also restrict speech which falls into the categories of “incitement, defamation…obscenity, child pornography…and threats” (Volokh, “Permissible Restrictions on Expression”, 2023). The Supreme Court ruled on restrictions of incitement – defined as “speech [that] is forbidden because it incites, or is likely to lead to, violence or illegal actions” – in the landmark decision in Brandenburg v Ohio (Vile, “Incitement to Imminent Lawless Action”, 2009). In this case, Brandenburg, a member of the KKK, was convicted under Ohio law for statements that “alluded to the possibility of “revengeance” (sic) in the event that the federal government and Court continued to “‘suppress the white, Caucasian race.” The Supreme Court overturned the conviction and held that “advocacy could be punished only ‘where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action’” (Walker, “Brandenburg v Ohio”, 2009). The second exception to free expression is defamation. Defamation deals with two types of tort action “that encompasses false statements of fact that harm another’s reputation”: libel and slander. Libel “generally refers to written defamation, while slander refers to oral defamation, though much spoken speech that has a written transcript also falls under the rubric of libel.” In New York Times Co. v Sullivan, the New York Times published an article with factual errors about protests occurring in Alabama. In the case, “The Court reasoned that ‘erroneous statement is inevitable in free debate’ and that punishing critics of public officials for any factual errors would chill speech about matters of public interest. The high court also established what has come to be known as ‘the actual malice rule’.” This rule says that the offended party “must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the speaker made the false statement with ‘actual malice’ — defined as ‘knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not’” (Hudson, “Defamation”, 2020). The third and fourth exceptions are obscenity and child pornography. Obscenity “refers to a narrow category of pornography that violates contemporary community standards and has no serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value” (Hudson, “Obscenity and Pornography”, 2009). The test for obscenity comes from Miller v California, a case where “the Supreme Court upheld the prosecution of a California publisher for the distribution of obscene materials.” The test in this case has three parts: “‘Whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest; whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value’” (Hudson, “Miller v. California”, 2009). The last exception to the first amendment is true threats. The test case for this exception is Virginia v Black, where a statute banning crossburning was upheld in the state of Virginia. The court’s reasoning was “‘True threats’ encompass those statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals. . . . Intimidation in the constitutionally proscribable sense of the word is a type of true threat, where a speaker directs a threat to a person or group of persons with the intent of placing the victim in fear of bodily harm or death’” (O’Neill, “True Threats”, 2017). These exceptions to the first amendment illustrate that the right is not absolute in American jurisprudence, and the intent and manner of the speech – as illustrated above – weighs heavily in whether or not it is permissible.


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When was it generally accepted as a fundamental, legally-protectable right? + create