U.S. Constitutional Law
Topic Question: Why is it that I may not yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater, but I may yell “Heil Hitler!” in Skokie, Illinois?
Freedom of speech is the right to communicate personal ideology using verbal and/or written property for public consumption. Most believe freedom of speech is understood to be fundamentally democratic. In the book On Liberty by political philosopher John Stuart Mill, Mill argued in favor of freedom of speech and equated the liberty of professing and discussing a matter of ethical conviction. He also believed any idea, however immoral it may be considered, should be permitted. In theory, Mill believed the right to expression requires challenging societal norms, rather than social conformance.
Alternatively, Mill also introduced what is modernly known as the “harm” principle, in placing limitations on free speech. Mill states "the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others (Mill, 1859).” This is the rationale which prohibits you from yelling “Fire” in a crowded theater. Rights to freedom of speech involving clear, present, or probable danger are not absolute.
Over the years, the U.S. Supreme Court has often struggled to determine what exactly constitutes protected speech. As a result, the Supreme Court has identified several categories of prohibited speech and have instituted additional limitations such as libel, slander, obscenity, and sedition. Federal courts have also recognized that governments can enact time, place, or presentation restrictions on speech such as permits for rallies. In spite of these limitations, the legal protections provided by the first amendment of the United States Constitution are considered the most comprehensive of any industrialized nation. Freedom of speech has and will always remain a necessary, evolving, controversial component of American justice....