government speech

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The government speech doctrine is a principle of constitutional law which says that, although the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause limits government regulation of private speech, it does not restrict the government when the government speaks for itself. In other words, the government is not required to act neutral when expressing its own opinion.  

It is not always clear when the government is speaking for itself instead of unconstitutionally restricting others’ speech. For example, in Rust v. Sullivan the Supreme Court determined that when the government funds family-planning programs, it may forbid healthcare providers in the program from answering pregnant women’s questions about abortion. In Legal Services Corp. v. Velazquez, however, the Court determined that, when the government funds a program supporting legal representation for indigent parties, it may not forbid lawyers in the program from helping those parties challenge or amend welfare laws. The Supreme Court has not yet provided a clear standard for this type of case.

This doctrine does not allow the government to ignore other parts of the Constitution. For example, even though government speech is not regulated by the Free Speech Clause, it is still subject to the Establishment Clause.

[Last updated in January of 2023 by the Wex Definitions Team]