Fundamentals of the First Amendment
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The First Amendment to the US Constitution protects free speech, freedom of the press, and the freedom of assembly. (It also protects free exercise of religion and bars the establishment of religion, which will be the subject of a different presentation). Although the First Amendment allows “no law” infringing the rights it protects, that prohibition cannot be taken literally. While the US protects free expression to a greater extent than any other constitutional democracy, some limits are allowed. Case law deems some categories of speech (such as obscenity and so-called fighting words) unprotected, while even protected speech may be limited by content-neutral time, place, or manner restrictions. Meanwhile, despite warranting its own clause, case law gives no special protection to the institutional press. This introduction to the very large body of free expression case law provides a useful framework for analyzing classic as well as contemporary conflicts.