The First Amendment doesn't guarantee you the rights you think it does
Updated 10:06 AM ET, Thu April 27, 2017
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Two conservative organizations filed a federal lawsuit after a speaking event at UC Berkely featuring Ann Coulter was rescheduled following violent protests and threats. The groups argued the change of venue and time was "repressive" and marginalized conservative views. The school says they acted out of concern for safety.
The question of intent is central to arguments like these. "If they moved her because her life is under threat, that seems pretty viewpoint neutral," Nott says. "But if a school moves a speaker just to shove them to the side then that is unconstitutional."
If you're a government employee, it's complicated.
Nott says she's heard of cases where police officers sued after being fired for saying or writing racist remarks, and courts have ruled in favor of the department. In that case, she says, "They decided that for police officers, in their community, being a known racist impacts their ability to do their job."
However, public servants like police officers are also allowed to act as private citizens, and a flurry of recent cases have ended up coming down on the side of the officer. in 2016, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a police officer who sued his department when he was demoted after he was spotted in public holding a yard sign for a mayoral candidate.
During the Vietnam War, a man was giving a speech and said, if he got drafted, his first bullet would be for then-President Lyndon B. Johnson. Courts ruled that it wasn't a true threat.
"They looked at the context, and it was hyperbole," Nott says. "The audience took is as a joke, they laughed, and it was clearly a joke. If he was going to meet with LBJ the next day, or had said it in a serious way to a serious audience, that would be a different set of circumstances."
- Obscenity (the definition relies on context, but regular old porn is not considered obscene)
- Fighting words
- Child pornography
- Incitement to imminent lawless action
- True threats
- Solicitations to commit crimes
- Plagiarism of copyrighted material
Source: The Newseum Institute
Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969)
In December of 1965, three students were suspended for wearing black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War. The school argued the display was a distraction and possibly a danger to students, and the case went all the way up the judicial chain. The Supreme Court didn't bite.
"While schools have a responsibility to keep their students sage, [the Supreme Court] decided that the armbands didn't invade the rights of others," Nott says. "And ultimately, the school asking students to remove the bands infringed upon their rights."