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News The limits to freedom of speech

  1. Jul 29, 2006 #1
    What, if any, are the limits to freedom of speech?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 29, 2006 #2
    Ideally, the only limits are that which undeniably infringes on the inalienable rights of others. In practice, the limits are whatever our government says they are.
  4. Jul 29, 2006 #3


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    Basically, Congress cannot pass any law limiting the ways in which a person may verbally or symbolically express himself. Certain forms of speech can violate laws that are not specific to speech, however. Egging on a crowd to incite a riot, or threatening to kill someone, for instance, are illegal despite being forms of speech.

    Probably, the most eggregious violation of the first amendment was the Sedition Act of 1918, which made it illegal to "to use 'disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language' about the United States government, flag, or armed forces during war. The act also allowed the Postmaster General to deny mail delivery to dissenters of government policy during wartime." Although I don't see any way there can be any doubt that this violated the first amendment, the Supreme Court upheld the law in Schenk v. United States.

    Basically, as with any matter of constitutional law, it's up to the Supreme Court. What they say is a violation is a violation.
  5. Jul 30, 2006 #4
    There's also libel and slander, which are specific to defamation.

    Interestingly, being a celebrity seems to by definition mostly exclude one from being harmed by published statements that are both false and damaging, since celebrities are already well-known and elevated to protected positions.

    I would hate being a celebrity. I'd even be hesitant to usher in a new era of physics, if it meant reporters. :redface:
  6. Jul 30, 2006 #5
    Yeah, that is one of the ways in which infringing on the rights of others limits our own rights. 'Shouting fire in a crowded theater' is another example that is commonly used to illustrate such a limit on our freedom of speech.
  7. Jul 30, 2006 #6
    Freedom of speech allows a maturation of responsible communication. What was obscenity most often finds more appropriate words as the years progress. What still is obscenity may protect one internally from outside verbal attack, abuse and cowardice.
  8. Jul 30, 2006 #7
    The limit of freedom of speech is the number of people hearing your speech.

    You can go on the street and start preeching, but who's going to hear you, 100, or 1000 people. If you are lucky, you might reach more people during a public demonstration. You can make up some webside and get 100,000 hits in few years.

    But you can't be on live TV and start talking to 300 million americans. Especially against the government.

    You can't even buy your own channel if you were super rich, and even so, most networks wouldn't host it anyways.
  9. Jul 31, 2006 #8
    The number of people listening has nothing to do with your freedom to say things. If you got into an auditorium filled with one hundred thousand people you are free to say the same things that you could say to one close friend. It makes no difference whatsoever: the only difference in numbers is the impact your speech will have on the country or community.
  10. Jul 31, 2006 #9
    He means to say that society shuts out what it doesn't want to hear.
  11. Jul 31, 2006 #10


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    Kind of interesting question considering how easy it is to spread gossip over the internet. Is spreading gossip about Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes freedom of speech? How about spreading gossip about your next door neighbor? How about if the person's somewhere in between, like the lawyer of a well known person, and the gossip is an account of your sexual relationship with the person(s) (actually, the person spreading the gossip in her blog was an intern and she talked about all of her sexual relationships with people from Capitol Hill - only one person sued).

    Should the law protect us from kiss-and-tell bloggers?
  12. Jul 31, 2006 #11
    Freedom of speech applies mostly to politics, who would really care about trivia, gossip.

    100,000 people is hardly 300 mil americans. Consider a commusist state where speaking against the government is not allowed. Then you have an underground movements forming passing intel silently between one another. Everyone is curiious and would seek out such a movenemt.

    On the other hand, what we percieve as a "freedom is speech" in USA, is subtly even worse then communism. First, the masses believe they have freedom of speech and hence wouldn't seek out such an underground movement, meaning people that have a choice don't seek out an alternative news source. Secondly, a tighly contorolled media is the only source capable of reaching the whole population. No one person can keep challenging the governent over the media. Please prove me wrong.

    Sure you can freely speak to 10,000 people, but you can't change the hearts and minds of 300 mil peope. Only the media can or more precisly the government can as they see fit. And this is the illusion of "freedom of speech" While you can speak out anything you want, the goverment is aready molding you into a shape.

    my 3 cents
  13. Aug 1, 2006 #12
    Something for legal beagles to chew on.

    If criminalizing seditious speech is an egregious violation of the First Amendment, then where does that leave perjury and obstruction of justice?
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