First Amendment Expert Talks about the Fundamentals and Threats of the First Amendment

The first 45 words of the Bill of Rights introduce the civil rights of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition, according to a First Amendment expert.

“The First Amendment has been a vital tool in the advancement in social progress,” said Hudson.

David L. Hudson, Jr. is a First Amendment expert law professor who serves as First Amendment Ombudsman for the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center.

Hudson’s lecture titled “Fundamental First Amendment Principals and Threats to Free Speech,” was broken up into two parts—the fundamentals and the threats. He spent most of the time going over the fundamentals, however.

He went through each of the five freedoms and explained what each does. However, he focused mainly on the freedom of speech.

“The First Amendment protects far more than just the spoken word and the printed word,” said Hudson, “it also protects many types of expressive conduct.”

Some forms of expressive conduct include the wearing of certain items, colors, or symbols and sit-ins.

“Another fundamental principal of the First Amendment is that not all speech is protected,” said Hudson, “you don’t have the First Amendment right to utter a true threat, to traffic obscenity or child pornography, to insight lawless actions, or to engage in false advertising.”

According to Hudson, critics say these unprotected freedoms of speech are too vague or a little too hard to figure out.

Over the years, the Supreme Court has narrowed the categories of the unprotected freedoms.

“Now obscenity is reserved for the hardest, hardcore, usually sexually violent materials,” said Hudson.

Hudson raises the question of possibly needing new unprotected freedoms of speech.

“Some lawmakers have tried to ban other forms of speech such as violent video games, protesting at funerals, and glorification of acts of termism.”

Another fundamental principal is that the government should not engage in content discrimination or viewpoint discrimination, according to Hudson.

“When we are confronted as a society with harmful speech, our initial reaction should not be to suppress it, but to counter it,” said Hudson, “it’s referred to as the counter-speech doctrine.”

The doctrine can be traced back to 1927 with a case called “Whitney Vs. California,” according to Hudson.

“The remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence,” said Hudson, quoting the case.

Hudson ended the fundamentals about the First Amendment with the freedoms of some offensive/disagreeable speech, prior restraints and the vagueness of drafted laws.

Hudson writes for the “ABA Journal” (American Bar Association) and the American Bar Association’s Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases and is the author or co-author for many books.

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