For much of our nation’s history, the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech did not clearly protect art from government censorship. Over the course of the 20th century, however, courts gradually extended speech protections to a broader range of artistic expression, including film, dance, theater, and fine arts. Today, public officials can censor art only in limited circumstances. What are those circumstances, and what protection does the First Amendment provide?
The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s not only led to significant legislative change and social progress, but it also served as a catalyst for the expansion of First Amendment freedoms. This teacher’s guide recounts many of the First Amendment developments ushered in during this new era of commitment to civil rights and equality. These include constitutionalizing libel law, protecting peaceful protesting, acknowledging new forms of symbolic speech, recognizing the freedom of association, and limiting the ways in which licensing laws can be used to censor speech.
Public access to the judicial system is a necessary element in a constitutional democracy. The idea behind “We the People”—the notion that the people are sovereign—assumes that the people govern their institutions. This teachers guide discusses access to courts, including how court access is faring during the COVID-19 crisis; the development of access to criminal trials; the importance of both the First Amendment right of access and the Sixth Amendment right to a public trial; the clash between the First Amendment and the Sixth Amendment concerns over a fair trial; the qualified right of access to civil court proceedings; the dangers of “secret justice”; and cameras in the courts.
The most fundamental violation of freedom of the press is considered to be a prior restraint—an order issued by a court that prohibits the publication or broadcast of material that in some way is deemed especially harmful. Prior restraints have come up in many different contexts, including permits for demonstrations and ratings for movies. In this guide, however, we focus on two of the most important areas—where publication of information may endanger national security and where it may harm a defendant’s right to a fair trial under the Sixth Amendment.
This teacher guide examines the role peaceful protest has played in United States history, how the law evolved to ensure greater protections for protest, and contemporary threats to assembly rights. It includes information about the civil rights movement, major court cases, and the philosophy of civil disobedience.
Today, most political and social discussion occurs in the digital sphere, often on peoples' social media platforms. Seeing this, some public officials have opened Facebook and Twitter accounts to share important updates and engage with their constituents. But what happens when the official wants to remove a user who is posting critical feedback? This teacher guide uses the Knight First Amendment Institute v Trump to show how First Amendment principles like public forum and viewpoint discrimination apply online.
The Sedition Act of 1798 was the first great test of the First Amendment’s protection for the freedom of speech and press. Under the new law, Americans could face up to $2,000 in fines (nearly $42,000 in 2020 dollars) and two years in prison for criticizing a public official. 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.
Though politicians and journalists need one another, their interactions are by nature often adversarial. 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?