Freedom of Speech: What Is It For Your Work?
We hear about the right to free speech all the time. But do people understand that right—or the restrictions that could lead to legal trouble? Evidence is to the contrary.
Case in Point: Alex Jones
After Alex Jones spent 10 years filling the airwaves with deceptions about the Sandy Hook murders, a jury what group French decided he needed to pay out over $45 million in punitive damages, on top of $4.1 in compensatory damages to the parents of Jesse Lewis, who was killed in the massacre. In a separate trial, Jones was found guilty on multiple charges and ordered to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to families who’d suffered as a result of his words.
What are the Rules about Speech?
While Jones complained that it was wrong to prosecute free speech just because someone’s feelings were hurt, it’s clear that the jury felt otherwise. Yes, the First Amendment protects what we say, even when it’s untrue, offensive, or cruel. The government cannot interfere or punish you. Where Jones’ words got him into trouble was in that they were defamatory. Sandy Hook families were able to sue him for defamation. And win they did. So, while free speech is clearly protected, some speech is not, including:
- Child pornography;
- Libel and defamation;
- Illegal behaviors like vandalism, criminal threats, obstruction of a law enforcement officer, unlawful assembly, refusing to disperse when directed by police, and trespassing.
Hate speech is becoming more prominent these days. Although there’s no legal definition for hate speech, it generally today encompasses speech that is insulting or demeaning to a specific group based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or disability. In America, such speech is protected by the First Amendment unless it falls under one of the categories outlined above.
What About Symbols?
According to the Supreme Court, it is legal to burn an American flag to express dissatisfaction with government actions, but it is not legal to use nonverbal symbols to threaten people. So is it ok to wear a swastika? The basic answer is that it depends on how it is used and whether people are threatened in conjunction with its use.
Have Your First Amendment Rights Been Violated?
If you’ve been charged with a crime in violation of your First Amendment Right to free speech, you need a dedicated, knowledgeable, and tenacious criminal defense attorney in your corner. We have seen police interfere with free expression time and again in this country. At Lobo Law, our creative Las Vegas criminal attorneys are prepared to throw out all the stops in your defense. Schedule a confidential consultation in our office today