COVID-19 Update: How We Are Serving and Protecting Our Clients. Click for More Information.

Articles Tagged with free speech

When two legal rights collide, how does the court pick a side? The United States Supreme Court’s ruling on June 4, 2018, in Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, made it clear that it is not an easy decision. Today’s Long Island civil rights blog discusses whether a baker can rightfully turn down a gay couple’s request to design their wedding cake if the baker’s religion does not accept gay marriage.

Freedom of speech and religion are two important civil liberties protected under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Freedom of speech extends to both traditional verbal speech, and expressive conduct also known as symbolic speech. Burning a flag and wearing a t-shirt opposing a political leader are two examples of symbolic speech.

Conduct remains at the heart of symbolic speech claims. Thoughts, ideas, and opinions are powerful and courts have decided to protect them in certain scenarios. However, the conduct’s offensiveness or irrationality can never be taken into consideration when deciding whether or not the conduct deserves First Amendment protection.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects several rights, including the freedom of speech.  Indeed, the text of the Amendment reads “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.”  Like most Constitutional rights, the freedom of speech is not limitless and the level of Constitutional protection speech may be afforded depends, sometimes, on where the speech is made. Courts have interpreted the freedom of speech to apply to a variety of forums, including books, public streets, and, in some cases, public buildings.  Today’s civil rights blog discusses the collision between a centuries old document and 21st century technology – twitter.

Public Forums vs. Non-Public Forums

Throughout the course of U.S. history, the country’s courts have been called upon to interpret the meaning of the Constitution and its Amendments.  As First Amendment law has developed, it’s become understood that public spaces can fall into one of three types of forums — a public forum, a public forum by designation, and a non-public forum.  The level of First Amendment rights a person has in a public space is dependent on which of these types of forum the public space is classified as.

In 2009, the Town of Oyster Bay in New York passed a law prohibiting people from soliciting employment along roadways within the Town.  Two public interest groups sued the Town alleging that the law violated the First Amendment’s protection of free speech.  On August 22, 2017, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s determination that the law violates the First Amendment.  Today’s New York civil rights blog discusses the case Centro de la Comunidad Hispana de Locust Valley v. Oyster Bay.

First Amendment Free Speech

The First Amendment prohibits the government from passing laws which restrict speech based on the content of the speech.  For example, a law which generally allows picketing unless the picketing is aimed at a particular type of labor dispute has been declared unconstitutional.  In Centro, the Second Circuit found that Oyster Bay’s law unlawfully regulated content based speech because the government would have to assess what the speaker was saying to determine whether the person was violating the law.  In other words, as described by the Court, Oyster Bay would have to look at whether the person was stopping vehicles and saying “hire me” verse “tell me the time.”  Thus, the Court had no problem finding that Oyster Bay’s law restricted content-based speech.

Contact Information