Free Speech

  • The First Amendment protects many forms of expression including, the right to free speech and participating in various forms of demonstrations (protests, marches, leafleting, chanting, drumming, etc.). The First Amendment also protects “symbolic speech,” for example, wearing t-shirts with messages, carrying signs, sculptures or puppets, etc.
  • There are limits on free speech. You can be arrested for encouraging “imminent” violence or other immediate illegal activities that threaten harm to people or property. It is a federal crime to threaten to harm the president or vice president.
  • Violence or property destruction is not constitutionally protected modes of free speech.
  • You can exercise your right to free speech on any private property where the owner gives permission and in any area open to the public, such as streets, sidewalks, parks, etc. If you plan to or actually block passage on a street or sidewalk, legally, you must apply for a permit.
  • You can approach other people in public areas with leaflets, newspapers, petitions, and requests for donations. You cannot prevent people from getting by or walking away. You cannot block building entrances.
  • You can heckle other speakers, but the protection of heckling ends if you attempt to physically disrupt an event or drown out other speakers. If speakers have a permit to use a public space, hecklers may be required to stand outside that area. Police may keep two opposing groups separated but should allow them within the same general area.
  • Civil disobedience is not constitutionally protected. Civil disobedience can legally be prosecuted. You may be arrested.