Freedom of Speech and the Role of the Government: Overview

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Amdt1.2.8.1 Freedom of Speech and the Role of the Government: Overview

First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Government adopts and enforces many measures that are designed to further a valid interest but that may restrict freedom of expression. As an employer, government is interested in attaining and maintaining full production from its employees in a harmonious environment. As enforcer of the democratic method of carrying out the selection of public officials, it is interested in outlawing “corrupt practices” and promoting a fair and smoothly functioning electoral process. As regulator of economic affairs, its interests are extensive. As educator, it desires to impart knowledge and training to the young with as little distraction as possible. All these interests may be achieved with some restriction upon expression, but, if the regulation goes too far, then it will violate the First Amendment.1

Highly relevant in this and subsequent sections dealing with governmental incidental restraints upon expression is the distinction the Court has drawn between content-based and content-neutral regulations — a distinction between regulations that serve legitimate governmental interests and those that are imposed because of disapproval of the content of particular expression. Compare Police Dep’t of Chicago v. Mosle, 408 U.S. 92 (1972); Erznoznik v. City of Jacksonville, 422 U.S. 205 (1975); and Schacht v. United States, 398 U.S. 58 (1970), with Greer v. Spock, 424 U.S. 828 (1976); Civil Service Commission v. National Association of Letter Carriers, 413 U.S. 548 (1973); and United States v. O’Brien, 391 U.S. 367 (1968). Content-based regulations are subject to strict scrutiny, but content-neutral regulations are subject to lesser scrutiny. See Modern Tests and Standards: Vagueness, Overbreadth, Strict Scrutiny, Intermediate Scrutiny, and Effectiveness of Speech Restrictions, supra. back

The following state regulations pages link to this page.