All too many people in the United States know someone dear to them that has passed away while fighting for our country. If the death of a loved one is not enough, imagine going through the process of grieving and accepting the loss while you are at the funeral and having sick, delusional people come and protest against the death. They hold signs with phrases like “God Killed Your Sons” or “Pray for More Dead Soldiers.” To make matters worse, if you try to get the group to stop the protests, they argue that it is their right to protest thanks to the freedom of speech clause by the First Amendment. A line must be drawn as to what can and cannot be said with regards to the First Amendment and freedom of speech. Unfortunately, this issue has been occurring all too often because of the gray area in the First Amendment.
The issues that occur with the freedom of speech clause have been prevalent since the beginning of the 1900s. In fact, 168 cases have appeared before the Supreme Court involving freedom of speech clause by the First Amendment. In 1917, Judge Learned Hand said that “government can regulate any speaker who would ‘counsel or advise a man‘ to commit an unlawful act.” In that same time, the Supreme Court ruled that government can punish all speech that has a tendency to encourage illegality. Fast forward 100 years though, and as of last June, the Supreme Court has unanimously re-established that “speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend.”
On the contrary, Joan Vennochi says, “The First Amendment protects the speech we hate to hear.” As hard as it is to hear, that is true. Being able to speak your mind is really nice if you are the one expressing yourself but not always nice if you are the person being expressed to. However, there still needs to be a line drawn as to how hateful the speech can be before it becomes an issue.
Ultimately, many courts have decided that the exception to freedom of speech is when it is proven that the defendant said something they knew others would regard as threatening. The statement cannot be deemed as unconstitutional if it was a mistake or they were harassed into saying the statement. While there is still a gray area, and probably always will be, by having courts put parameters on what can and cannot be said regarding freedom of speech, states have some ability to limit to some protest by speech if offensive, which is definitely a step in the right direction.