Freedom of Speech and Expression
The Core First Amendment Freedom
All laws concerning speech must be content and viewpoint neutral. Statutes must not state, imply, or intend to regulate speech based on a disagreement with its message or idea. Thus, the law prohibits government from regulating what one says in public.
Permissible Government Regulation over Freedom of Speech
The First Amendment, however, does not prohibit regulation of the surrounding circumstances in which speech occurs. The Constitution prohibits the power to regulate what people say. But it does not entirely curtail the power to police “the marketplace” of ideas.
Indeed, the law balances individual liberty with the government’s duty to protect the health and safety of its citizens. Consequently, government may regulate the time, place, and manner of speech—when, where, and how speech occurs—in public.
Additional Limitations On Government Authority
Despite the power to regulate time, place, and manner, the law enshrines freedom of speech as a fundamental right. Accordingly, the power to regulate surrounding circumstances may effectively result, intentionally or otherwise, in restricting what one says. Therefore, the First Amendment limits the extent to which the government may regulate when, where, and how communication may occur. These laws must:
- be narrowly tailored to a legitimate, content-neutral government interest,
- be the least restrictive means of serving a given legislative goal, and
- leave open ample alternative channels for communication.
This explanation briefly illustrates the limitations on government power with respect to speech. Indeed, freedom of expression guarantees one will not suffer government sanctions based on what one communicates. Although the government may regulate when, where, and how one communicates, these regulations must not be overly broad with respect to either the government’s purpose, as a means to serving the government’s purpose, or the range of channels for communication.
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