"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." These are the words of the First Amendment written and ratified near the end of the 18th century.
When the forefathers of the United States wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, they were written in such a way as to be flexible. However, that left gray areas open for interpretation. The First Amendment right to free speech is no exception.
What is the definition of free speech? Does it apply to individuals and groups alike? Where does someone draw the line between free speech and obscenity?.
For the enduring freedom to last, everyone, even those with messages most people don't want to hear, must be given the opportunity to speak.
During the period of 1976-1978 in Skokie, Ill., neo-Nazis led by Frank Collin wanted to march through town a town with possibly the largest concentration of Holocaust survivors in the U.S. The local government refused to give them the opportunity by passing ordinances aimed at preventing distribution of hate materials, parading in military costumes, and then obliging parade organizers to obtain an insurance bond before a permit would be issued.
After a series of state and federal lawsuits, the ordinances were overturned and the neo-Nazis were granted a permit to march in the village of Skokie. However, the group decided not to have the march, but instead held a rally in Chicago.
"There is no right to be heard, only to speak," said Prof. Jeff Renz, a professor of law at the University of Montana.
According to Renz, the neo-Nazi group followed legal channels to be granted permission to march. They hired a lawyer, filed injunctions and eventually made it before a judge who decided they had a right under the First Amendment to carry out their march.