Unpopular Speech and the Shaping of the First Amendment by Jak Allen at Quillette.
American civil libertarians are justifiably proud of the broad set of rights that their country’s citizens enjoy, and the unique legal protections afforded to freedom of expression, in particular. A variety of judicial rulings throughout the twentieth century expanded the interpretation of the First Amendment to provide some of the widest speech protections in the Western world. Although exceptions exist for ‘obscenity’ and ‘fighting words,’ Americans may otherwise be as expressive or inflammatory as they please, so long as they do not espouse a direct incitement to imminent lawless action.
However, rapid cultural shifts in recent years has prompted a greater willingness on university campuses to categorise and censor what is often referred to as ‘hate speech,’ which is muddying the lines around protected expression. Next year will be the 100th anniversary of one of the most famous cases in United States Supreme Court history, Schenck v. U.S., which, along with a lower court case two years earlier, Masses Publishing Company v. Patten, helped to formulate the modern interpretation of the First Amendment. In a time of heightened division and polarisation, it is apt to revisit these origins.