• Weird History

All The Things That Are And Aren't Protected By The First Amendment

Though it was ratified in 1791, the First Amendment feels more relevant than ever. Debates go back and forth about what freedom of speech covers and what demonstrators have the right to say about civil rights issues.

At its core, the First Amendment protects American citizens from government punishment because of the opinions they express. Some people question how far free speech protection goes. Are people really allowed to get together in the name of what most would deem hate? The answer is: sort of. For example, it isn't illegal to express bigoted views or to speak out against the government, and Americans are free to wear Nazi armbands and use racial slurs. 

There are some freedom of speech limitations, though, and it's important to know the ins and outs of what the First Amendment protects.

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  • Nonverbal Symbols Of Hate: Protected

    According to the ACLU, the Constitution protects symbols of hate, even if someone wears or displays them in a public place. There is a limit to how someone can use symbols of hate, though. They are not protected when used to intimidate another person or to desecrate private property, such as someone's home or car.

  • Child Pornography: Not Protected

    Full stop: Child pornography is always illegal. Any speech depicting a minor performing a sexual act or showing their private parts loses all protection under the First Amendment.

  • Libel And Slander: Not Protected

    Thanks to the First Amendment, you can let the world know you think someone is total garbage. But that statement must strictly be an opinion, couched in language that clearly marks it as such.

    According to HG.org, freedom of speech doesn't protect the spread of false statements that harm someone's reputation or business. For example, you can say you think someone is a creep, but you can't say they issued a specific creepy statement if they did not.

  • Photo: Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Perjury: Not Protected

    You cannot lie under oath, and the First Amendment won't save you if you do. Freedom of speech is pretty much thrown out the window if you're using your words to commit a crime such as perjury. The same goes for anything you say that might be considered harassment or extortion.