Symbolic Speech

Death Sentence of White Supremacist Overturned on First Amendment Grounds

Death Sentence of White Supremacist Overturned on First Amendment Grounds

July 25, 2019 The California Supreme Court unanimously overturned the death sentence of a white supremacist after finding that the prosecution erred by asking the jury to consider his racist beliefs when deciding whether or not to impose the death penalty. Under the First Amendment, a defendant’s beliefs, no matter how offensive others may find them, cannot be taken into[Read More…]

Cop at traffic stop

Sixth Circuit: A Raised Middle Finger Is Free Speech

March 13, 2019: The Officer “Should Have Known Better,” The Court Said Giving the middle finger is protected speech under the First Amendment, a federal appeals court ruled. In a 3-0 decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit sided with a Michigan woman who sued a police officer for violating her constitutional rights after he pulled[Read More…]

March 21, 2019 Symbolic Speech
Clear and Present Danger: Episode 22: Fighting Words – Free Speech in 18th Century America, Part II

Clear and Present Danger: Episode 22: Fighting Words – Free Speech in 18th Century America, Part II

Clear and Present Danger: A History of Free Speech is a podcast hosted by Jacob Mchangama, the founder and executive director of Justitia, a think tank focusing on human rights. Mchangama guides listeners through the history of free speech from the trial of Socrates to the Great Firewall of China.  In Episode 22 of the podcast, “Fighting Words – Free[Read More…]

First Amendment Watch Teacher Guide: How are NFL Protests Related to Symbolic Speech and the First Amendment?

First Amendment Watch Teacher Guide: How are NFL Protests Related to Symbolic Speech and the First Amendment?

Symbolic speech as a form of protest, like taking a knee at a football game while others stand for the National Anthem, enjoys a long history in America. It’s been a powerful form of political expression going back to the protests in the colonies in the 1760s against British oppression.

The NFL protests—players taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem before NFL games—provides an extraordinary opportunity for teaching about the law and history of the First Amendment.

July 9, 2018 Symbolic Speech, Teacher Guides
Lata Nott Podcast (with FAW Founder Stephen Solomon): Symbolic Speech

Lata Nott Podcast (with FAW Founder Stephen Solomon): Symbolic Speech

The Newseum Institute’s First Amendment expert, Lata Nott, originally published this podcast on the Newseum blog, and has given First Amendment Watch permission to reprint.           In this episode of The First Five, Lata Nott speaks with First Amendment expert and historian Stephen Solomon about symbolic speech, or nonverbal acts of expression, and to what extent they are[Read More…]

A liberty tree with effigies.

From Liberty Tree to Taking a Knee: America’s Founding Era Sheds Light on the NFL Controversy

Symbolic speech as a form of protest, like taking a knee at a football game while others stand for the National Anthem, enjoys a long history in America. It’s been a powerful form of political expression going back to the protests in the colonies in the 1760s against British oppression. Various forms of symbolic expression—liberty trees, liberty poles, effigies of hated politicians, even the use of the number 45—brought multitudes into the political sphere and was critical in building opposition to British rule. Much of this symbolic expression was controversial and even offensive but a powerful form of protest then and now.

January 25, 2018 Deep Dive, Symbolic Speech
Court Rules Baring Breasts Not Protected by First Amendment

Court Rules Baring Breasts Not Protected by First Amendment

November 8, 2017: Court Rules Against Topless Protestor The United States Court of Appeals for the  Seventh Circuit ruled that a Chicago ordinance did not violate the First Amendment freedom of speech or the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause when it was used against a woman exposing her breasts in public as part of a political protest. Sonoku Tagami was[Read More…]

November 10, 2017 Artistic Expression, Protest, Symbolic Speech
Louisiana Parish Council Passes Bill to Protect Flag From Desecration

Louisiana Parish Council Passes Bill to Protect Flag From Desecration

  October 24, 2017: Local Legislators Say Don’t Disrespect the Flag, ACLU Counters It Is Protected Speech The Iberville Parish Council without debate and against the American Civil Liberties Union’s recommendation passed an ordinance “to prohibit flag desecration of (the) American Flag, Louisiana Flag and Iberville Parish Flag.” Council Chairman Matthew Jewell stated he was not against the First Amendment but that[Read More…]

October 27, 2017 Political Speech, Protest, Symbolic Speech
Players Who Sit Out National Anthem Under Fire by President Trump

Players Who Sit Out National Anthem Under Fire by President Trump

Over the weekend, President Trump took aim at players who have more explicitly over the past year taken to kneeling, sitting or raising a fist during the playing of the National Anthem in order to bring awareness to racism and police brutality. In response to the President’s tweets, NFL players in games across the country responded by kneeling or sitting out the national anthem. Debate bubbled over on social media over whether this was a fireable offense or freedom of expression.

September 25, 2017 Protest, Symbolic Speech