The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday comes from the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech….” This provision gives Americans the right to say whatever they desire – which is reasonable - without fear of the government punishing them.
“This provision does not in any way imply that the freedom of speech … [is an] absolute [right]. [It] must necessarily operate under reasonable restrictions. However, the Founders wanted … regulations and standards of propriety to be established by the states, not the federal government.
“On the state level it is necessary to prohibit freedom of speech in a number of ways. For example, it is not permissible to use freedom of speech to slander or libel another person. It is also unlawful to cry `Fire!’ in a crowded auditorium or theater as a practical joke and thereby cause a panic. There are also restrictions on where free speech may be exercised if it will attract a crowd and impede the use of a public thoroughfare or park without prior permission.” (See W. Cleon Skousen, The Making of America – the Substance and Meaning of the Constitution, p. 688.)
Eugene Volokh of The Heritage Foundation asked, “What exactly did the Framers mean by `freedom of speech’ …? Surprisingly, there is little definitively known about the subject. The debates in the First Congress, which proposed the Bill of Rights, are brief and unilluminating. Early state constitutions generally included similar provisions, but there is no record of detailed debate about what those state provisions meant… (The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, p. 311).
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