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First Amendment: Time, Place, Manner Regulations & Censorship

  • 1 Summary

    The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the government from legislating various laws. These include, but not limited to: impeding the exercise of freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, restricting the right to peacefully assemble, or prohibiting the right to petition for a governmental redress of grievances.

    Among one of ten amendments within the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment was put forth on December 15, 1791. It’s original interpretation was far more narrow than today, making First Amendment issues among the most complicated within the American judicial system. One of the most prominent First Amendment case was Near v. Minnesota, 238 U.S. 697 (1931) where the midwestern state filed a permanent injunction, or gag law, against a man for publishing an Anti-semitic newspaper that was considered a “public nuisance.” The defendant argued that this violated his First Amendment right of free speech and press. In the end, the Constitution favored Near, saying that censorship is almost always unconstitutional unless the information threatens national security.   

    Other cases such as Cohen v. California, where a man was charged for disturbing the peace for wearing a “Fuck the Draft” jacket, or Snyder v. Phelps, when the Westboro Baptist Church protested a U.S. soldier’s funeral, illustrates that the First Amendment is ever evolving in its interpretation, but nonetheless is at the base of all communications law.

    The first amendment also clearly applies to artistic expression, even film, regardless of its indirect outcomes. In Byers v. Edmondson, plaintiffs suing on behalf of the victims of violent crimes included Oliver Stone as a defendant because his film Natural Born Killers may have inspired the real life crime. Although the case was considered a valid one, it was decided that because there was no proof that Stone intended to incite violence, his film was protected speech.

    SOURCE: and individual case analyses summaries.

  • 2 General Resources

    • 2.1 Key Documents

      1. The First Amendment Center: "About the First Amendment"

      2. Congressional Research Service: "Freedom of Speech & Press: Exceptions to the First Amendment"

    • 2.2 YouTube Video Freedom of Speech Summary

      YouTube Video Freedom of Speech (Source: Crash Course Government and Politics)

    • 2.3 Important Terms

      Important definitions of terms relevant to First Amendment law.

      1. Time, Place, Manner: "a restriction on the time, place or manner of expression that is justified when it is neutral as to content and serves a significant government interest and leaves open ample alternative channels of communication." SOURCE: FindLaw Dictionary

      2. Unprotected Speech: includes obscenity, fraud and incitements to violence. SOURCE: "A Practical Guide to Media Law" by Ashley Messenger. 

      3. Censorship: is the suppression of words, images or ideas that are deemed 'offensive' by the government or private pressure groups and succeeds when people impose their personal political or moral values on others. SOURCE: American Civil Liberties Union

      4. Permanent Injunction: "a court order that a person or entity takes certain actions or refrain from certain activities. A permanent injunction is typically issued once a lawsuit over the underlying activity is resolved, as distinguished from a preliminary injunction, which is issued while the lawsuit is pending." SOURCE: Cornell Law

      5. Prior Restraint: "in First Amendment law, a prior restraint is government action that prohibits speech or other expression before it can take place.  There are two common forms of prior restraints. The first is a statute or regulation that requires a speaker to acquire a permit or license before speaking, and the second is a judicial injunction that prohibits certain speech. Both types of prior restraint are strongly disfavored, and, with some exceptions, generally unconstitutional." SOURCE: Cornell Law

      6. Strict Scrutiny: "is a form of judicial review that courts use to determine the constitutionality of certain laws. To pass strict scrutiny, the legislature must have passed the law to further a “compelling governmental interest” and must have narrowly tailored the law to achieve that interest." SOURCE: Cornell Law

    • 2.4 Recent First Amendment Cases

      By Jacob Atkins

      Ferguson Protests: 

      This Al Jazeera America article analyzes police tactics in Freguson, Missouri and their implications on free speech, especially among marginalized communities. Despite being published in March 2015, this topic is still relevant as police departments across the United Statesattempt to restore trust amond their respective communities. According to the article, the Department of Justice declared that the Ferguson Police Department (FPD) have "routinely violated" African Americans' rights to free speech. Specifically, many protestors have faced legal repercussions for simply "talking back" to law enforcement officials, recording police-related activities in public settings and even the act of protesting itself. Not even journalists or reporters are immune to these alleged acts of censorship and suppression, which certainly reinforces notions of prior restraint.

      Although verbal criticism against police officers is permissible and protected under the First Amendment, the FPD are notorious for arresting individuals on grounds of "noncompliance." For many, this exemplifies unconstitutional policing methods and an "intolerance" for legally-grounded opposition. Keeping this in mind, it will be interesting to see what gradually unfolds as plaintiffs attempt to prosecute FPD.

      SOURCE: (DOJ says Ferguson police violated African-American’s free speech rights). (n.d.). Retrieved March 14, 2016, from


      Ag-Gag Laws:

      Similar to the Minnesota Public Nuisance Law of 1925, many of today’s ag-gag laws refers to state ordinances deliberately trying to prevent undercover filming or photography on farms without prior consent from the owner. Such legislation has resulted in states having the liberty to persecute animal rights activists for trying to expose certain practices at industrial farms. According to the article a farm worker in North Carolina was recently charged with four counts of animal cruelty after activist group Mercy for Animals released a video of him crushing the heads of four chickens on the heal of his shoe. Originally this farm was partnered with Purdue, which is one of the largest poultry processing companies in the country. However, the enterprise terminated its contract with the farm soon after the incident occurred.

      Keeping this incident in mind, North Carolina just became the seventh state in the country to pass ag-gag laws in hopes of protecting their industries from such negative exposure. Specifically, the "Property Protection Act" is meant to protect businesses from individuals "attempting to discredit these private businesses unfairly." As mentioned in the article, if Mercy for Animals released the video after the law was passed, they would have faced a daily fine of $5,000 for every day in which the video circulated. All things considered, I feel as though Upton Sinclair would be rolling in his grave right about now, for he was the muckraker who began exposing the amoral practices of the American meat industry in his 1906 novel "The Jungle." These laws directly counteract everything he stood for, especially corporate accountability and business transparency. All in all, these ag-gag laws appear to be censoring free speech if it's critical of a state's business interests. Once again, it seems as though business endeavors take precedence over respecting people's first amendment rights.

      SOURCE: (If You Love Animals and Free Speech, You Should Be Worried of Ag-Gag Laws). (n.d.). Retrieved March 14, 2016, from



      Persepolis is a coming-to-age graphic novel written and illustrated by Iranian-born French cartoonist and filmmaker, Marjane Satrapi. A French publishing house predominantly known for comic books, L’Association, published the autobiography in 2000. The graphic novel depicts the early days of the Iranian Revolution through the eyes of a young girl, which was expectedly censored in Iran. A lot of material is unabashedly critical of the government, not to mention lamenting over the “good old days” before the religious clerics enforced such stringent ordinances, such as a new dress code for women and banning “inappropriate” music that allegedly promoted promiscuity. While a negative reception from Iran was anything but expected, it’s rather mind boggling that Persepolis came under fire at a school in Chicago.

      In 2013 the Chicago Public School (CPS) system restricted seventh-grade classrooms from reading Persepolis due to its graphic language and images. Many people ranging from teachers to advocacy groups denounced the decision as “Orwellian,” which is an adjective attributed to author George Orwell conveying notions of “draconian control, propaganda, surveillance, misinformation, denial of truth, and manipulation of the past” (Wikipedia). Apparently schools across the city were simply told by the district to remove the book from libraries and classrooms without any explanation. After a series of protests, though, CPS partially renounced their decision.

      In the end Persepolis was allowed to remain in libraries but forbidden from the classroom due to the images and language. According to one official from CPS, “we want to make sure that the message about inhumanity (is what) kids walk away with, not the images of someone with exposed body parts urinating on someone’s back or someone being tortured” (Flood, 2013). In that sense, it seems as though CPS wanted to ensure that students understood the intended message of the book.

      SOURCE: (Persepolis Battle in Chicago School Provokes Outcry). (March 19, 2013). Retrieved March 14, 2016, from

    • 2.5 Classroom Hypothetical

      Classroom Hypothetical. Source: United States Courts (

  • 3 Individual Case Analyses

    • 3.1 Snyder v. Phelps by Roxanne Cecil

      In March 2006, Albert Snyder, the father of the late U.S. Marine, Matthew Snyder, sued the Westboro Baptist Church, an ultra-conservative group known for their intolerance of homosexuality, for picketing his son’s funeral. In the end, the main issues were time, manner, and place, and the Fourth Circuit of Appeals decided that the Westboro Baptist Church’s speech was protected due to the fact that it was related to a public issue and disseminated on a public sidewalk.

    • 3.2 Near v. Minnesota Analysis by Jacob Atkins

      New precedents on prior restraint and censorship were formed when the Supreme Court prevented Minnesota's governor from prohibiting the publication of a controversial newspaper denouncing state officials of malfeasance in 1931. Despite the governor’s attempt to establish a permanent injunction over The Saturday Press under Minnesota’s Public Nuisance Law of 1925, it was eventually overturned and deemed unconstitutional to do so. In the process, the federal court upheld freedom of the press to the highest extent.
      • 3.2.1 Near v. Minnesota Analysis by Jacob Atkins

        By Jacob Atkins

      • 3.2.2 Near v. Minnesota Video Summary

        This YouTube video showcases an array of primary source documents dating back to the era of Near v. Minnesota. Since the constitutional battle stemmed from accusations of statewide corruption, this short documentary provides context regarding The Saturday Press’ portrayal of Minneapolis as a city “where the people were drunk, satisfied, and left the law enforcement and running of the city to crock politicians and strong-armed gangsters.” For example, police officers are seen standing on the top of motorcycles, in addition to a person gunned down in a vehicle. Although these photos illustrate Near’s and Guilford’s allegations, the video also introduces the style of “Yellow Journalism” that the duo was adhering to, for both of them published exaggerated or sensationalized articles to instigate societal reforms.


    • 3.3 Byers v. Edmonson Analysis by Ford Fischer

      In March of 1995, Sarah Edmondson and her boyfriend Benjamin James Darras watched Natural Born Killers, then killed one person and severely injured another. When the victims' families filed suit, they named the filmmakers as a defendant and claimed that they were also responsible for inspiring the act. The court ultimately held that filmmaking is protected speech even if it may inspire violence.

    • 3.4 Cohen v. California by Lindsay Maizland

      In April 1968, Paul Robert Cohen carried a jacket with the words “fuck the draft” written on the back into a California court house. He was arrested, and in a landmark case, the Supreme Court reversed the ruling, subsequently protecting the use of potentially-offensive language.

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