Symbolic Speech: Overview
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.
Communication of political, economic, social, and other views is not accomplished solely by face-to-face speech, broadcast speech, or writing in newspapers, periodicals, and pamphlets. There is also “expressive conduct,” which includes picketing and marching, distribution of leaflets and pamphlets, addresses to publicly assembled audiences, door-to-door solicitation, and sit-ins. There is also a class of conduct, now only vaguely defined, that has been denominated “symbolic conduct,” which includes such actions as flag desecration and draft-card burnings. Because all these ways of expressing oneself involve conduct rather than mere speech, they are all much more subject to regulation and restriction than is simple speech. Some of them may be forbidden altogether. But, to the degree that these actions are intended to communicate a point of view, the First Amendment is relevant and protects some of them to a great extent. Sorting out the conflicting lines of principle and doctrine is the point of this section.
The following state regulations pages link to this page.