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First Amendment Center (6)

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Our website has a wealth of information that may be useful in your project. Search the site for your topic and other terms that interest you. If you quote or paraphrase our information, be sure to cite where you obtained it.

Yes, as schedules and duties permit, Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center experts speak to groups and conferences or participates in programs. Generally, the inviting group must fund travel-related expenses for the First Amendment Center participant. The Center welcomes invitations to participate in nonpartisan, educational events about First Amendment issues.

The Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center does not provide legal representation and does not fund litigation. We’re a nonprofit organization focused on education and information about First Amendment issues.

No, you need a qualified attorney for that. Laws differ from state to state. Martindale, Findlaw and other online legal services offer ways to find lawyers by specialty where you live. However, the information posted on our site may help you and your attorney. Use the search engine for topics or terms that interest you.

The mission of the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center is to serve as a nonpartisan source of information, rather than as a participant in legal disputes. Therefore, the Center does not file amicus briefs.

No. We are an educational organization. We provide information and sometimes expert testimony that members of Congress or others may find useful, but we do not lobby.

Free Spirit (11)

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No. We require samples of writing, photography, audio, video or other media that were produced for publication or for classroom assignments.

All candidates will be notified by mail no later than mid-May 2017. Recipients will be required to sign an acknowledgment form to confirm their acceptance. Scholars’ names will be posted online in early June 2017.

No. Freedom Forum will pay all expenses for travel, lodging, ground transportation and meals for participants. Additional details will be sent to the winners in mid-April 2017.

The conference will be held June 17-22, 2017, at the Newseum. Scholars will stay in a Washington, D.C., area hotel.

The Close Up Foundation, which has been bringing high school students to Washington, D.C., for 30 years, will handle travel logistics. The foundation also will provide supervision and oversight of participants.

No. All scholars are required to participate in the entire conference. This is an inspiring opportunity to interact with distinguished journalists, visit newsrooms, tour Washington and share experiences with other Free Spirit Scholars.

Freedom of Speech (73)

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School officials cannot pull books off library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas in those books. In Board of Education v. Pico, the Supreme Court ruled that school officials in New York violated the First Amendment by removing several books from junior high school library shelves for being too controversial.

The Court said the First Amendment protects students’ rights to receive information and ideas and that the principal place for such information is the library.

However, in Pico, the Supreme Court also said that school officials could remove books from library shelves if they were “pervasively vulgar.” The Court noted that its decision did not involve school officials’ control over the curriculum or even the acquisition of books for school libraries.

An offended person’s decision not to speak is hardly a reason to suppress the speech of others. Those who find an idea, epithet, literary work or other form of expression offensive can oppose, counteract and perhaps refute it with further speech — not by banning the speech deemed to be offensive.

As Justice Louis Brandeis said in a famous quote, “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

States take different approaches to allocating time for public comments at public meetings, and courts across the country have provided some guidance on this issue. Most states do not expressly require, via statutes or legal precedent, time for public participation in public meetings, although it has become a customary practice to allow individuals to speak. Often in the case of school board meetings, members of the public are required to provide notice, or to register with the board well before the meeting, to be allowed to make a comment.

The Florida Supreme Court has recognized that public comments in open meetings are important in maintaining an open government. The court has stated that government bodies “should not be allowed to deprive the public of this inalienable right to be present and to be heard at all deliberations wherein decisions affecting the public are being made.” Board of Public Instruction of Broward County v. Doan, 224 So. 2d 693,699 (Fla. 1969). Furthermore, the Florida Code expressly provides that members of the public have a right to participate in local government meetings regarding land use, but the comment time can be regulated by the decision-making body. Fla. Stat. § 286.0115(2)(b).

California has a statute that requires public bodies to allow for public comments at meetings. Cal. Gov. Code § 54954.3(a). A California case provides legal precedent for when a public meeting is continued to a later date for some reason. In Chaffee v. San Francisco Library Commission, 115 Cal. Rptr. 3d 336 (Cal. App. 2004), a public meeting was continued to a later date after the meeting body lost its quorum to continue. A California citizen brought suit alleging that the state sunshine laws (or open-meeting laws) required public comments at every meeting of a public body, not just a comment section on each agenda. The California Court of Appeals in the 1st Appellate District held in favor of the public body by holding that public comments are mandated only once per agenda, not once per body meeting. Allowing for public comments at each meeting regarding the same meeting would cause a “surplusage,” the court said.

Some states, such as Wyoming, statutorily make it a right of a public body to prevent willful disruption of a meeting by removing anyone causing a disruption or by taking a recess. Wyo. Stat. § 16-4-406.

Many supporters feel that the flag is a unique symbol deserving of dignity and respect. To burn this object of veneration is akin to an “inarticulate grunt or roar” that is devoid of any meaningful speech, intended only to enrage others, and undeserving of free-speech protection. The supporters say that when so many other avenues exist for free expression, any burden on the First Amendment is too small to outweigh the desecration of the flag and the memories of the millions who have died for the liberty it represents.

Yes. Individuals are not subject to the rules and regulations concerning online campaign advertising. An individual may send unlimited personal emails on any political topic. There is no need even to identify yourself, and it is not necessary to state whether or not you have been authorized by a political party in sending the email.

Freedom of expression 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. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the rights of individuals to freedom of religion, speech, press, petition, and assembly. Some scholars group several of those freedoms under the general term “freedom of expression.”

Most state constitutions also contain provisions guaranteeing freedom of expression. Some provide even greater protection than the First Amendment.

Freedom of expression is essential to individual liberty and contributes to what the Supreme Court has called the marketplace of ideas. The First Amendment assumes that the speaker, not the government, should decide the value of speech.

Freedom of the Press (39)

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The status of the plaintiff (person bringing a lawsuit) in defamation law is important because there are different legal standards for different types of plaintiffs. The legal standard changes depending upon whether the defamation plaintiff is a private or public figure. Private figures must show that a defendant was negligent, or at fault, in order to prevail. But, so-called public figures or public officials who sue for defamation must meet a higher legal standard. They must show that a defendant acted with actual malice by clear and convincing evidence in order to recover. The courts have defined actual malice as knowing that a statement was false or acting in reckless disregard as to whether a statement was true or false.

This difference in legal standards shows why a significant amount of defamation litigation focuses on whether the plaintiff is a private or public figure. Defamation defendants will often argue that plaintiffs are public figures, while plaintiffs will often contend that they are private figures.

The Radio-Television News Directors Association closely monitors the federal and state rules governing cameras in the courtroom. The foundation posts a state-by-state guide of current law regarding cameras and microphones in courtrooms on its website.

Just as with any medium of communication, blogging can implicate a variety of First Amendment interests. Some bloggers write material that others may claim is defamatory. There is also a debate as to whether bloggers qualify as journalists or reporters for purposes of reporter-shield legislation. Additionally, a looming question concerns the extent of free-speech protection held by public employees who post blogs on their free time. There is also a debate as to whether bloggers should be subject to campaign-disclosure legislation.

A retraction statute is a law that allows a defamation plaintiff to retract, or take back, a defamatory statement. Retraction statutes vary considerably from state to state in terms of their coverage and net effect. Under many statutes, a plaintiff has to request a retraction within a certain time frame. Then, the defendant must comply in a certain time frame. In many states, if a defendant issues a proper retraction, the defendant can reduce (but not eliminate) the damages they will have to pay. For example, in Tennessee, if a defendant issues a proper retraction, the defendant cannot be held liable for punitive damages. (Punitive damages are damages designed to punish the wrongdoer; they are controversial in some circles, because they go beyond compensatory damages, which are damages designed to compensate the plaintiff for wrongdoing.)

Broadcasters long have maintained that the tools of their trade — cameras and microphones — can be used to cover trials with no more disruption than the pens, notebooks, tape recorders and other materials used by print reporters and sketch artists. Most courts, however, have not been persuaded by this argument. In addition, most courts have taken the view that, as long as television reporters are allowed into the courtroom, they have the same access as print reporters.

That is a difficult question. Certainly, public employers have authority to prohibit employees from writing their blogs on employer time. The trickier question is whether a public employee can be disciplined for expression created on his or her own time. One theory is that since the expression was created off-duty, then the employer has no control over such content. A key factor could be whether the expression causes a disruption at the workplace. A few courts, for instance, have disciplined employees for racist comments they have made off-duty. This is a developing area of the law that merits close attention.

Freedom of Religion (89)

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The study of history offers a number of opportunities to study about the Bible. When studying the origins of Judaism, for example, students may learn different theories of how the Bible came to be. In a study of the history of the ancient world, students may learn how the content of the Bible sheds light on the history and beliefs of Jews and Christians — adherents of the religions that affirm the Bible as scripture. A study of the Reformation might include a discussion of how Protestants and Catholics differ in their interpretation and use of the Bible.

In U.S. history, there are natural opportunities for students to learn about the role of religion and the Bible in American life and society. For example, many historical documents — including many presidential addresses and congressional debates — contain biblical references. Throughout American history, the Bible has been invoked on various sides of many public-policy debates and in conjunction with social movements such as abolition, temperance and the civil rights movement. A government or civics course may include some discussion of the biblical sources for parts of our legal system.

Learning about the history of the Bible, as well as the role of the Bible in history, are appropriate topics in a variety of courses in the social studies.

Generally, teachers must instruct their students in accordance with the established curriculum. For example, the 9th Circuit ruled in 1994 against a high school biology teacher who had challenged his school district’s requirement that he teach evolution, as well as its order barring him from discussing his religious beliefs with students. In the words of the court, “[A] school district’s restriction on [a] teacher’s right of free speech in prohibiting [the] teacher from talking with students about religion during the school day, including times when he was not actually teaching class, [is] justified by the school district’s interest in avoiding [an] Establishment Clause violation.” (Peloza v. Capistrano Unified School Dist., 9th Cir. 1994)

Also, a state appeals court ruled again that a high school teacher did not have a First Amendment right to refuse to teach evolution in a high school biology class (LeVake v. Independent School Dist. No. 656, Minn. App. 2001). The teacher had argued that the school district had reassigned him to another school and another course because it wanted to silence his criticism of evolution as a viable scientific theory. The state appeals court rejected that argument, pointing out that the teacher could not override the established curriculum.

Other courts have similarly found that teachers do not have a First Amendment right to trump school district decisions regarding the curriculum (Clark v. Holmes, 7th Cir. 1972, Webster v. New Lenox School Dist. No. 122, 7th Cir. 1990). One court wrote: “the First Amendment has never required school districts to abdicate control over public school curricula to the unfettered discretion of individual teachers.” (Kirkland v. Northside Independent School Dist., 5th Cir. 1989)

The 4th Circuit ruled that a teacher had “no First Amendment right to insist on the makeup of the curriculum.” (Boring v. Buncombe County Bd. of Education, 1998)

Yes, if, and only if, the moment of silence is genuinely neutral. A neutral moment of silence that does not encourage prayer over any other quiet, contemplative activity will not be struck down, even though some students may choose to use the time for prayer. (See Bown v. Gwinnett County School Dist., 11th Cir. 1997)

If a moment of silence is used to promote prayer, it will be struck down by the courts. In Wallace v. Jaffree (1985) the Supreme Court struck down an Alabama “moment of silence” law because it was enacted for the express purpose of promoting prayer in public schools. At the same time, however, the Court indicated that a moment of silence would be constitutional if it is genuinely neutral. Many states and local school districts currently have moment-of-silence policies in place.

Not as part of their federally funded programs. According to Title 45, Part 87, Section 2, Subsection C of the Code of Federal Regulations, “organizations that receive direct financial assistance from the [federal government] may not engage in inherently religious activities, such as worship, religious instruction, or proselytization, as part of the programs or services funded with direct financial assistance from the [government].”

Generally no. Adults from outside the school do not have an automatic right to distribute materials to students in a public school. May school officials allow them to do so? Although this area of the law is somewhat unclear, it is fair to say that schools should exercise great caution before giving an outside group access to students during the school day. Giving some groups access opens the door to others. Moreover, if a religious group is allowed to actively distribute religious literature to students on campus, that activity is likely to violate the establishment clause.

At least one lower court has upheld “passive” distribution of materials in a secondary school by religious and other community groups. Note that in this case the group left materials for students to browse through and take only if they wished. Also, a wide variety of community groups were given similar privileges, and the school posted a disclaimer explaining that the school did not endorse these materials. Under those conditions, this court allowed passive distribution, but only in the secondary-school setting (see Peck v. Upshur County, 4th Cir. 1998, although other federal courts have rejected this distinction).

Schools may announce community events or meetings of groups — including religious groups — that work with students. All of these groups should be treated in the same way. The school should make clear that it does not sponsor these community groups (see Child Evangelism Fellowship v. Stafford Township, 3rd Cir. 2004).

Whatever legal standard is used to resolve inmate freedom-of-religion lawsuits, some in society ask: “Who cares?” Many people believe that inmates forfeited their rights when they committed their crimes. But others believe society should try to encourage inmates to practice their religious faith.

“Let’s face it. Most inmates do get out of prison at some point,” says David Fahti, a prison expert. “And the single best predictor of whether an inmate will do OK when they reenter society is whether they maintain community ties when they are in prison.

“There are many reasons why we should recognize the religious rights of inmates,” Fahti says. “Our country was founded on principles of religious freedom. Many people came to this country to flee religious persecution in other countries. As long as a prisoner’s practice of religion does not interfere with prison security, there is simply no reason to deny an inmate’s religious rights.

Adds Keith Defasio, a prisoners’-rights advocate, “Even though inmates are incarcerated for crimes, they should still be entitled to their constitutional dignities. Where are we as a democracy if we can give and take away constitutional rights?”

Freedom of Assembly (13)

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Groups that wish to engage in public activism must abide by generally applicable laws, such as criminal trespass or prohibitions on litter, excess noise, crowd congestion and permit requirements. If the government seeks to intervene in the internal affairs of a group in a way that impairs its advocacy, the regulation must be narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest that outweighs any burden on the group’s speech.

This freedom protects the right of people to meet and publicly support a cause or message. It also protects the right of people not to be affiliated with certain messages or ideas. For example, the government cannot force expressive associations to accept unwanted members who would impair the effectiveness of the group. Nor can the government force people to support undesirable causes through required fees or dues as part of belonging to a group.

The movement drew upon several First Amendment freedoms — primarily speech, assembly and petition — to protest racial injustice and promote racial equality. In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court strengthened these First Amendment freedoms through its rulings in court cases arising out of the civil rights movement.

In some cases, anti-abortion demonstrators physically obstruct and/or intimidate those entering and exiting abortion clinics. Legislatures and judges create and permit buffer zones to ensure that people can work safely at the clinics and that women have access to them.

Generally, no. The Bill of Rights provides protection for individual liberty from actions by government officials. This is called the state-action doctrine. Private property is not government-owned. Restrictions on individuals’ free-speech rights on private property do not involve state action.

However, a few states have interpreted their own state constitutions to provide even greater free-speech protection than the federal Constitution offers. For example, the New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that individuals have free-speech rights at privately owned shopping malls. Most state supreme courts that have examined the issue have disagreed. In April 2002, the Iowa Supreme Court refused to extend its definition of public property to include large, privately owned shopping malls.

A 2010 case, Snyder v. Phelps, involved whether a verdict assessing damages against the Westboro Baptist Church for a protest causing emotional distress to a soldier’s family violates the First Amendment.

In a somewhat related case, the Court in Frisby v. Schultz (1988) upheld a Wisconsin city ordinance banning picketing in front of private residences. “The type of picketers banned by the Brookfield ordinance generally do not seek to disseminate a message to the general public, but to intrude upon the targeted resident, and to do so in an especially offensive way,” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote for the Court. The Court has also decided a series of cases involving limitations on abortion protesters outside clinics. For example, in Hill v. Colorado (2001), a divided Court (6-3) upheld a Colorado law that imposed an 8-foot floating buffer zone between protesters and those entering and leaving abortion facilities.

 

Freedom to Petition (9)

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The First Amendment does not mandate that the government consider the public’s petitions or actually provide any “redress.” At a minimum, the government must have a mechanism for receiving complaints and grievances from the public, even if only to file them without consideration. Of course, due process — the guarantee that justice will be administered fairly — would apply if a citizen’s “petition” took the form of a court case.

No, parties can attempt to file such suits, but the First Amendment’s petition clause guarantees the right of all interested parties to attempt to enlist the government on their side of an issue or dispute. The vast majority of the case law and commentary — both popular and scholarly — supports that right, and suggests that the remedy for dissatisfaction with the statements of another party is more speech directed toward government, not more litigation.

Lobbyists try to persuade government officials either to support or oppose various policy issues. Therefore, lobbying can be considered a form of petitioning the government for redress of grievances, subject to protection under the First Amendment’s petition clause. Although there has not been a great deal of judicial analysis on First Amendment protections afforded to lobbying, the courts have carved out several parameters. First, the petition clause does not grant a lobbyist the absolute right to speak to a government official, nor does it grant a lobbyist the right to a hearing based on his or her grievances. In addition, the clause does not create an obligation for a government official to take action in response to a grievance. Finally, any statement made while a lobbyist petitions a government official does not receive greater protection than any other expression protected by the First Amendment.

A libel suit, whether involving online or off-line speech, is one of the ways a SLAPP suit could be disguised; anti-SLAPP laws would apply. However, not all libel suits are SLAPP suits. Anti-SLAPP laws would apply only if it were found that a suit was filed in response to or in retaliation for citizen communications with government entities or employees, or for speech to bring attention to an issue of public interest or concern.

In 2001, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter determined that California’s anti-SLAPP statute does apply to cyber-SLAPPs. (See Global Telemedia International Inc. v. Doe et al., 132 F. Supp. 2d 1261 (C.D. Cal. 2001))

In 2003, the Massachusetts Appeals Court cited that state’s anti-SLAPP statute in throwing out a libel lawsuit against a website operator whose posted statements suggested a town official was a Nazi. (See MacDonald v. Paton, 57 Mass.App.Ct. 290 (2003) and “State appeals court rules online libel suit was really SLAPP.”)

Other state anti-SLAPP statutes may also apply to online libel suits. See “Anti-SLAPP statutes: state summary” for a state-by-state list.

No. The right to such legal resources in prison falls under due process.

Historically, a petition was a written request stating a grievance and requesting relief from a ruling authority such as a king. In modern America, petitioning embraces a range of expressive activities designed to influence public officials through legal, nonviolent means.

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