The First Amendment, Freedom of Speech, And The Right To Be Heard
In light of conservative speakers such as Gavin McInnes and Milo Yiannopoulos being protested by students causing their speeches to be interrupted, it’s important that we reccognize what our first amendment rights are, define exactly what freedom of speech is, and understand there is no right to be heard. The confusion over these terms have sparked unnecessary controversy where there need not be.
The First Amendment
It prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, ensuring that there is no prohibition on the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble, or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances. According to the United States Courts, Freedom of speech includes the right:
1) Not to speak (specifically, the right not to salute the flag).
West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943).
2) Of students to wear black armbands to school to protest a war (“Students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate.”).
Tinker v. Des Moines, 393 U.S. 503 (1969).
3) To use certain offensive words and phrases to convey political messages.
Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1971).
4) To contribute money (under certain circumstances) to political campaigns.
Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976).
5) To advertise commercial products and professional services (with some restrictions).
Virginia Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Consumer Council, 425 U.S. 748 (1976); Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977).
Freedom of speech does not include the right:
1) To incite actions that would harm others (e.g., “[S]hout[ing] ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.”).
Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919).
2) To make or distribute obscene materials.
Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476 (1957).
3) To burn draft cards as an anti-war protest.
United States v. O’Brien, 391 U.S. 367 (1968).
4) To permit students to print articles in a school newspaper over the objections of the school administration.
Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988).
5) Of students to make an obscene speech at a school-sponsored event.
Bethel School District #403 v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675 (1986).
6) Of students to advocate illegal drug use at a school-sponsored event.
Morse v. Frederick, __ U.S. __ (2007).
There Is No First Amendment Right To Be Heard
There is only a right to speak without being interfered with by the government. If the government tries to interfere with someone being heard when they had the right to speak, then that would be a violation of their First Amendment rights. However, if people in a place didn’t want to hear someone making a point, and choose to protest the speech, that would be their right too. You only have a right to not have the government interfere with people hearing you. You don’t have a right for people to be forced to hear you. They have just as much a right not to listen as you have a right to speak.