The 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the freedoms that many consider to be the essence of America. The five freedoms guaranteed by the 1st Amendment are speech, press, religion, assembly and petition. Collectively, these are sometimes referred to as freedom of expression.
Freedom of speech is the foundation on which all other 1st Amendment freedoms are based; without it the other freedoms could not exist. The purpose of free speech is to protect the minority, often unpopular, viewpoint from being overpowered by the majority, or by the government. The minority viewpoint needs to be heard because, in the long term, it may shape public opinion.
Over the years, the courts have clarified when and how speech can, and cannot, be restricted by the government.
- For example, true threats and obscenity are not protected speech
- On the other hand, provocative or offensive political opinions are protected speech
- The government can only regulate protected speech in very specific instances, such as protecting public safety or national security
Do you have the same rights at school?
While you don’t shed your Constitutional rights when you go to school, they must be balanced with the rights of your classmates, as well as the responsibility of the school to provide a safe environment and a quality education.
Consider these questions as you study the case histories that follow:
- Do I have freedom of speech at school?
- Can my school restrict my speech or writing? If so, for what reason(s)?
- Can I be punished for what I say or write at school?