Georgia Reporter

July 25, 2011

Limitations and Exceptions to the Right for Freedom of Speech

The freedom of expression is something that is enjoyed by many individuals. It includes not only what is spoken. It does not even have to necessarily involve the use of any words. It could be through the use of symbols or art. All of these are kept safe by the First Amendment.

There has been some concern regarding what can be considered as protected speech and what is not. This is especially true in the case of artistic and symbolic expression which includes pictures, movies, music, and paintings. As many people say, with freedom comes responsibility and this remains true with the right to free expression. The courts have identified certain exceptions to the First Amendment. These things have been considered exceptions because they are possibly harmful to the public. It is indeed very important for one not only to know what these exceptions are but also to gain basic understanding on each of them. It is also important to note that some of the things that are protected by the First Amendment may contradict the deeply set cultural values of a community.

Defamation is one of the exceptions to the right of freedom of speech. This is a false statement in the guise of being factual which has a negative effect on another individual’s reputation. This means that a person’s right to express himself is limited if what he expresses whether written or spoken will harm another person. This is an act that is punishable by law. For written words, one can be charged with libel and for spoken words, one can be charged with slander. In some cases, defamation can be very hard to prove in court especially since a person is entitled to have his own opinion and doing this is not classified as defamation.

Another limitation to the freedom of expression is when one says something which causes panic. A good example of this is when one shouts “fire” in a crowded shopping mall. Fighting words are also exempted from the freedom of speech. This encompasses speech that when uttered may cause injury to others and may cause the peace to be disturbed. This however needs to be thoroughly considered since that one person may have been provoked to release those so-called fighting words.

Speech that relates to the incitement of crime is also not covered by the First Amendment. When one speaks in order to encourage another person to commit something that is considered to be against the law, this is not considered to be part of one’s right to free speech.

Sedition involves conduct which is committed against the state in an effort to overthrow or do harm to the government. This will vary depending on one’s present situation. Obscene words are also not part of one’s right to freedom of expression and there is a test that governs this limitation. This is one of the most controversial exceptions to the First Amendment. Many people disagree on the parameters that are used to measure if a certain word can be considered obscene or not.

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