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Prior restraints prevent material from ever reaching the public, a serious step that diminishes the marketplace of ideas and the well of information that informs citizens in a self-governing society. Under the First Amendment, the Supreme Court has developed a very high barrier for the government to secure such a restraint.
Today’s students are growing up connected – tweeting, live streaming, posting on a seeming 24-7 cycle. The many controversies involving Facebook, Twitter, and other social media provide an excellent opportunity to teach First Amendment principles in a relatable way. President Donald Trump’s blocking of some critics from his Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, is one such opportunity to engage students in the First Amendment.
Passed only seven years after the ratification of the Constitution, the Sedition Act forced the young country to decide not just whether it was truly dedicated to freedom of speech, but also what that idea would even mean in a democratic republic.
A key part of a reporter’s job is to look beyond the story public officials want to tell and to ask uncomfortable questions. But when officials believe reporters go too far, can they ban them from attending future gatherings? And what First Amendment or other rights protect reporters from such actions?
The press is under attack from many public officials as well as private citizens writing on their blogs and Twitter accounts. President Donald Trump, for one, has accused some news organizations of publishing “fake news” about his administration. Although he may be unusually vociferous in attacking journalists, public officials of all political stripes throughout American history have complained about the press when they are targets of criticism. This is an opportune time for educators to reach back to James Madison for what may be the most powerful defense of freedom of the press written by any American.
Although many countries across the globe have laws prohibiting hate speech, the United States protects offensive speech about certain groups that historically have been subject to discrimination. This teacher guide explores the First Amendment issues that arise with attempting to regulate offensive speech drawing on past and contemporary court cases.