Question: To what extent is free speech in the First Amendment limited?









Answer: Free speech has several limitations. Here are two landmark cases that elaborate on free speech:

1. Schenck v. United States, 1919 - Charles Schenck was a member of the Socialist Party. He distributed thousands of leaflets containing damaging language against the World War I draft. Consequently, he was arrested for violating the Espionage Act, which made it illegal to disrupt the war effort. Weren’t those leaflets protected by the free speech clause of the First Amendment? The Supreme Court said “no.” Free speech was not absolute, as Schenck was creating a “clear and present danger.” According to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Schenck’s actions were like “shouting fire in a theater.”

2. In the 1951 case of Dennis v. US, the Supreme Court ruled that speech advocating for an overthrow of the government was not protected by the First Amendment. Eugene Dennis of the American Communist Party had violated the Smith Act of 1940, which made such talk a crime.   

Unlike the other two cases, the Texas v. Johnson (1989) decision expanded free speech. The Supreme Court ruled that burning of the American flag was protected by the First Amendment.

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