Study Guide

Free Speech - From Deep Throat to Bong Hits 4 Jesus

From Deep Throat to Bong Hits 4 Jesus

  • The First Amendment protects free speech, but some types of speech are given greater protection than others
  • Courts have granted political speech the greatest protection under the First Amendment
  • Courts have accepted tighter limits on "fighting words," dangerous speech, and obscenity
  • Supreme Court understanding of the meaning of "free speech" has evolved over time

Harry Reems, star of Deep Throat and other pornographic films, argues that his conviction for conspiracy to transport pornography across state lines violates his First Amendment rights. A high school student claims that the First Amendment protects him from punishment by school officials after he whips out a banner reading "BONG HiTS 4 JESUS" across the street from a school-sanctioned event. A Ku Klux Klansman says that the First Amendment protects him from criminal charges after urging his gun-wielding followers to take vengeance against the federal government for supposedly abusing the rights of white people.

You've got to be kidding, right? Harry Reems can't be the person James Madison had in mind in 1789 when he proposed an amendment to the constitution protecting free speech. Thomas Jefferson couldn't have been talking about sophomoric high school signs and moronic Klan rants when he argued that unfettered expression was both safe and necessary because "the truth is great and will prevail."blank">Constitution in debates over how to interpret the First Amendment
  • But there are many potential sources of "original meaning" (or perhaps, to be more accurate, "original meanings")

  • Sorting out the original meaning for various clauses and provisions of the Constitution is always a challenge. As with all of these quests, the first difficult question is where should we look? To the state ratifying conventions that demanded amendments to the Constitution? To the congressional debates surrounding the drafting of the amendment? To the debates surrounding speech in the first decades after ratification? Or should we look to broader philosophical or common law traditions surrounding speech?

    Probably, we need to look at all of these to figure out the intentions of the amendment's framers. Perhaps then we can determine the original meaning, or meanings, of the First Amendment.

    This is a premium product

    Tired of ads?

    Join today and never see them again.

    Please Wait...