Freedom of speech is a person’s right to speak his or her own opinions, beliefs, or ideas, without having to fear that the government will retaliate against him, restrict him, or censor him in any way. The term “freedom of expression” is often used interchangeably, though the “expression” in this sense has more to do with the way in which the message is being communicated (i.e. via a painting, a song, an essay, etc.). The concept of freedom of speech dates back to a time long before the Constitution was drafted, potentially as far back as Athens in 5th or 6th centuries, B.C. To explore this concept, consider the following freedom of speech definition.
Definition of Freedom of Speech
- The right to express your beliefs, ideas, and opinions without the fear of governmental reprisal or censorship.
5th or 6th Century B.C. Ancient Greece
What is Freedom of Speech
Freedom of speech is the right afforded to a person to be able to speak his or her mind without fear that the government will censor or restrict what they have to say, or will retaliate against them for expressing himself. People are often confused by this concept, however, thinking that they can say anything that pops into their heads without repercussion. Just because you are allowed to say whatever you want does not mean that you will not suffer consequences as a result – it just means that the government cannot violate your right to do so.
The U.S. has many laws that place limits on speech and other forms of expression, which may be seen as harsh restrictions. These include prohibitions against defamation, slander, copyright violations, and trade secrets, amongst others. American philosopher Joel Feinberg posited what is known as the “offense principle,” which works to prohibit speech that is clearly offensive, or which can harm society as a whole, or a group in particular, such as racial hate speech, or hate speech aimed at someone’s religion.
Different countries have different rules insofar as freedom of speech is concerned, with some countries’ governments becoming more involved than other governments in the affairs of their citizens. Communist countries like China are often in the news for blocking their citizens’ access to the internet, and restricting their ability to both read and express ideas and beliefs of which their government does not approve. Here in the United States, examples of freedom of speech include criticisms against the government, and the promotion of ideas or beliefs that others might find to be controversial. In the U.S., these kinds of statements are allowed, within the constraints of the “offense principle,” or the “harm principle.”
Freedom of Speech Amendment
The concept of freedom of speech came into being in the United States back in the 1780s, when Anti-Federalists, like Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry, expressed their concerns that the federal government could eventually become too powerful. To keep the government in check, the Bill of Rights was drafted, which gave us, among other guarantees, freedom of speech, as detailed in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which can also be considered the Freedom of Speech Amendment:
“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.”
In addition to offering citizens protection from government interference in the expression of their ideas, the Freedom of Speech Amendment also them with the freedom to exercise one’s religion free from persecution. This is known as the Free Exercise Clause. Under this clause, citizens are permitted to adopt any religion they choose, and to take part in the rituals that the religion dictates.
Similarly, the Establishment Clause prevents the government from establishing one official religion that the country’s citizens all must follow. It also prevents the government from developing a preference for, or promoting one religion over another, religion over the lack of religion, or non-religion over religion.
In short, the Constitution guarantees that all people may worship who or how they may, but the federal government has no say in the matter, and may not adopt an official stance. There has been some misunderstanding about this “Separation of Church and State” clause, as it does not prohibit people from expressing their religious preferences in public, but only prevents a governmental entity from promoting any religion over another.
Freedom of the press, which allows publications to print opinions free of governmental censorship, is also permitted under the Freedom of Speech Amendment. Additionally, those who wish to gather in protest against the government are permitted, under the First Amendment, to “assemble peaceably,” which is why protests are permitted on public property, so long as they remain peaceful.
Freedom of Speech Quotes
Throughout time, people have craved, even when it was denied them, the right to freely express themselves. Freedom of speech quotes have survived centuries, to be used again and again, as people fight for this basic human right. What follows are ten great examples of freedom of speech quotes, wherein folks have either defended the policy as is, or have defended the laws that keep freedom of speech in check.
“If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” – Noam Chomsky
“Freedom of speech is useless without freedom of thought.” – Spiro Agnew
“Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as public liberty, without freedom of speech.” – Benjamin Franklin
“There has to be a cut-off somewhere between the freedom of expression and a graphically explicit free-for-all.” – E.A. Bucchianeri
“For if men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences, that can invite the consideration of mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of speech may be taken away, and, dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter.” – George Washington
“Those who make conversations impossible, make escalation inevitable.” – Stefan Molyneux
“Freedom of speech is a guiding rule, one of the foundations of democracy, but at the same time, freedom does not imply anarchy, and the right to exercise free expression does not include the right to do unjustified harm to others.” – Raphael Cohen-Almagor
“Freedom of speech gives you the right to stay silent.” – Neil Gaiman
“Should freedom of speech include the freedom to tell lies? Who decides what is true and what is a lie? Should the young and impressionable be exposed to propaganda deliberately designed to make them hate others? If we deny the deniers the right to spread their venom, are we then putting our own right to free speech at risk? At which point does hate speech so directly provoke violence that it should be banned?” – Ted Gottfried
“Two things form the bedrock of any open society: freedom of expression and rule of law. If you don’t have those things, you don’t have a free country.” – Salman Rushdie
Freedom of Speech Examples in Legal Cases
More than inspirational freedom of speech quotes, the issue has inspired a number of court cases over the years. Some examples of freedom of expression and freedom of speech cases are discussed below in more detail:
Gitlow v. New York (1925)
In the first case to ever be tried by the American Civil Liberties Union, Benjamin Gitlow had been charged with criminal anarchy, after he printed the “Left Wing Manifesto” in his publication The Revolutionary Age. He defended the piece as being an historical analysis of the concept of communism, rather than acting as an advocate for the system. He was convicted upon the completion of his trial and was ordered to serve five to ten years in prison.
Gitlow appealed the conviction, and his appeal was granted, after he had already served two years at Sing Sing. He was released on bail, only to be re-incarcerated three years later when the Supreme Court upheld the original conviction.
The Court ultimately determined that publication of the “Left Wing Manifesto” was indeed a crime. Despite having served as a leader of the Communist Party in the late 1920s, Gitlow publicly rejected the party in 1939, having become an outspoken anti-communist in 1934, and he remained one of the leading opponents of communism until his death on July 19, 1965.
Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969)
In 1969, Ku Klux Klan leader, David Brandenburg, was convicted of criminal act, one of which was advocating “the duty, necessity, or propriety of crime, sabotage, violence, or unlawful methods of terrorism as a means of accomplishing industrial or political reform.”
This followed his participation in a 1964 Klan rally in Cincinnati, Ohio, which Brandenburg had asked a local reporter to cover. During the rally, Brandenburg made a speech against the government, claiming that the government was “suppressing the Caucasian race.”
The court convicted Brandenburg, fining him $1,000, and sentencing him to one to ten years in prison. Brandenburg appealed, saying that his right to freedom of speech under the First and Fourteenth Amendments had been violated. His appeal was denied by both the Ohio First District Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Ohio, with the latter flat-out dismissing it without even offering an opinion.
This case led to the establishment of what is known as the Brandenburg Test, which is the standard by which potentially inflammatory speech is measured. Speech can only be prohibited if (1) it is “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action,” and (2) it is “likely to incite or produce such action.”
Related Legal Terms and Issues
- Anti-Federalist – A political movement that opposed the creation of a stronger U.S. federal government, and opposed the ratification of the Constitution in 1787.
- Defamation – An intentional false statement that harms a person’s reputation, or which decreases the respect or regard in which a person is held.
- Copyright – A legal device that gives the creator of a literary, artistic, musical, or other creative work the sole right to publish and sell that work.
- Slander – An intentional false statement that harms a person’s reputation, or which decreases the respect or regard in which a person is held.
- Trade Secrets – Designs, practices, processes, commercial methods, techniques, or information that is not generally known by others, which gives a business an advantage over competitors.
Freedom of speech is the concept of being able to speak freely without censorship. It is often regarded as an integral concept in modern liberal democracies.
- Without Freedom of Thought, there can be no such Thing as Wisdom; and no such Thing as public Liberty, without Freedom of Speech; which is the Right of every Man, as far as by it, he does not hurt or control the Right of another. And this is the only Check it ought to suffer, and the only bounds it ought to know. This sacred Privilege is to essential to free Governments, that the Security of Property, and the Freedom of Speech always go together; and in those wretched Countries where a Man cannot call his Tongue his own, he can scarce call any Thing else his own. Whoever would overthrow the Liberty of a Nation, must begin by subduing the Fteeness [sic!] of Speech; a Thing terrible to Publick Traytors.
- That Men ought to speak well of their Governours is true, while their Governours, deserve to be well spoken of, but to do publick Mischief, without hearing of it, is only the Prerogative and Felicity of Tyranny: A free People will be shewing that they are so, by their Freedom of Speech.
- The Administration of Government, is nothing else but the Attendence of the Trustees of the People upon the Interest and Affairs of the People: And as it is the Part and Business of the People, for whole Sake alone all publick Matters are, or ought to be transacted, to see whether they be well or ill transacted, so it is the Interest, and ought to be the Ambition, of all honest Magistrates, to have their Deeds openly examined, and Publickly scann'd[.]
- Freedom of Speech is ever the Symptom, as well as the Effect of a good Government. In old Rome, all was left to the Judgment and Pleasure of the People, who examined the publick Proceedings with such Discretion, & censured those who administred them with such Equity and Mildness, that in the space of Three Hundred Years, not five publick Ministers suffered unjustly. Indeed whenever the Commons proceeded to Violence, the great Ones had been the Agressors.
- Guilt only dreads Liberty of Speech, which drags it out of its lurking Holes, and exposes its Deformity and Horrour to Day-light.
- The best Princes have ever encouraged and Promoted Freedom of Speech; they know that upright Measures would defend themselves, and that all upright Men would defend them.
- Misrepressentation of publick Measures is easily overthrown, by representing publick Measures truly; when they are honest, they ought to be publickly known, that they may be publickly commended, but if they are knavish or pernicious, they ought to be publickly exposed, in order to be pubickly detested.
- Freedom of speech is the great bulwark of liberty; they prosper and die together: And it is the terror of traitors and oppressors, and a barrier against them. It produces excellent writers, and encourages men of fine genius.
- All Ministers … who were Oppressors, or intended to be Oppressors, have been loud in their Complaints against Freedom of Speech, and the License of the Press; and always restrained, or endeavored to restrain, both.
- Without Freedom of Thought, there can be no such Thing as Wisdom; and no such Thing as publick Liberty, without Freedom of Speech.
- Benjamin Franklin, letter from "Silence Dogood," no. 8, printed in The New-England Courant, Boston, Massachusetts (July 9, 1722). Franklin, writing under the pseudonym Silence Dogood, was quoting the London Journal, no. 80, February 4, 1720/1; Leonard W. Labaree, ed., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 1, p. 27 (1959). This sentence is one of many quotations inscribed on Cox Corridor II, a first floor House corridor, U.S. Capitol.
- There is nothing so fretting and vexatious, nothing so justly TERRIBLE to tyrants, and their tools and abettors, as a FREE PRESS.
- Samuel Adams, (Boston Gazette, 1768) — cited in: Emord, Jonathan W. (1991). Freedom, Technology, and the First Amendment. Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy. p. 61.
- For if Men are to be precluded from offering their Sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences, that can invite the consideration of Mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of Speech may be taken away, and, dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the Slaughter.
- George Washington, address to the officers of the army, Newburgh, New York (March 15, 1783); reported in John C. Fitzpatrick, ed, The Writings of George Washington (1938), vol. 26, p. 225.
- Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.
- 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.
- I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty, than those attending too small a degree of it.
- Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it.
- Samuel Johnson, as quoted in James Boswell's The Life of Samuel Johnson, Vol. 1 (1791), p. 335.
- The power of communication of thoughts and opinions is the gift of God, and the freedom of it is the source of all science, the first fruits and the ultimate happiness of society; and therefore it seems to follow, that human laws ought not to interpose, nay, cannot interpose, to prevent the communication of sentiments and opinions in voluntary assemblies of men.
- Eyre, L.C.J., Hardy's Case (1794), 24 How. St. Tr. 206; reported in James William Norton-Kyshe, The Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904), p. 99.
- To preserve the freedom of the human mind then and freedom of the press, every spirit should be ready to devote itself to martyrdom; for as long as we may think as we will, and speak as we think, the condition of man will proceed in improvement.
- The diffusion of information and arraignment of all abuses at the bar of the public reason; freedom of religion; freedom of the press, and freedom of person under the protection of the habeas corpus, and trial by juries impartially selected. These principles form the bright constellation which has gone before us and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation. The wisdom of our sages and blood of our heroes have been devoted to their attainment. They should be the creed of our political faith, the text of civic instruction, the touchstone by which to try the services of those we trust; and should we wander from them in moments of error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety.
- When people talk of the freedom of writing, speaking, or thinking, I cannot choose but laugh. No such thing ever existed. No such thing now exists; but I hope it will exist. But it must be hundreds of years after you and I shall write and speak no more.
- May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man.
- Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Roger Weightman, June 24, 1826, in The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Adrienne Koch and William Peden (New York: Modern Library, 1944), p. 729.
- A popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.
- How absurd men are! They never use the liberties they have, they demand those they do not have. They have freedom of thought, they demand freedom of speech.
- People hardly ever make use of the freedom they have, for example, freedom of thought; instead they demand freedom of speech as a compensation.
- Soren Kierkegaard, as quoted in The Fitzhenry & Whiteside Book of Quotations (1981), p. 172.
- And I honor the man who is willing to sink
Half his present repute for the freedom to think,
And, when he has thought, be his cause strong or weak,
Will risk t'other half for the freedom to speak.
- No law shall be passed restraining the free expression of opinion, or restricting the right to speak, write or print freely on any subject whatever.
- The class which has the means of material production at its disposal has control over the means of mental production, so that in consequence the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are, in general, subject to it.
- Strange it is that men should admit the validity of the arguments for free speech but object to their being "pushed to an extreme", not seeing that unless the reasons are good for an extreme case, they are not good for any case.
- John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1859) Ch. 2, Mill (1985). On Liberty. Penguin. pp. p. 108.
- If any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility. … Though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied … Even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension [of] or feeling [for] its rational grounds.
- I do not believe that the tendency is to make men and women brave and glorious when you tell them that there are certain ideas upon certain subjects that they must never express; that they must go through life with a pretence as a shield; that their neighbors will think much more of them if they will only keep still; and that above all is a God who despises one who honestly expresses what he believes. For my part, I believe men will be nearer honest in business, in politics, grander in art — in everything that is good and grand and beautiful, if they are taught from the cradle to the coffin to tell their honest opinion.
- Standing in the presence of the Unknown, all have the same right to think, and all are equally interested in the great questions of origin and destiny. All I claim, all I plead for, is liberty of thought and expression. That is all. I do not pretend to tell what is absolutely true, but what I think is true. I do not pretend to tell all the truth.
I do not claim that I have floated level with the heights of thought, or that I have descended to the very depths of things. I simply claim that what ideas I have, I have a right to express; and that any man who denies that right to me is an intellectual thief and robber. That is all.
- I would not wish to live in a world where I could not express my honest opinions. Men who deny to others the right of speech are not fit to live with honest men.
I deny the right of any man, of any number of men, of any church, of any State, to put a padlock on the lips — to make the tongue a convict. I passionately deny the right of the Herod of authority to kill the children of the brain.
- Without free speech no search for Truth is possible; without free speech no discovery of Truth is useful; without free speech progress is checked, and the nations no longer march forward towards the nobler life which the future holds for man. Better a thousandfold abuse of free speech than denial of free speech. The abuse dies in a day; the denial slays the life of the people and entombs the hope of the race.
- Charles Bradlaugh, Speech at Hall of Science c.1880 quoted in An Autobiography of Annie Besant; reported in Edmund Fuller, Thesaurus of Quotations (1941), p. 398; reported as unverified in Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989).
- It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.
- Mark Twain, Following the Equator, Vol. 1 (1897), ch. 20.
- So we must beware of a tyranny of opinion which tries to make only one side of a question the one which may be heard. Everyone is in favour of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people’s idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone says anything back, that is an outrage.
- Winston Churchill, October 13, 1943 Hansard, United Kingdom Parliament, Commons, Coalmining Situation, HC Deb, volume 392, cc920-1012.
- Anarchism says, Make no laws whatever concerning speech, and speech will be free; so soon as you make a declaration on paper that speech shall be free, you will have a hundred lawyers proving that "freedom does not mean abuse, nor liberty license"; and they will define and define freedom out of existence. Let the guarantee of free speech be in every man's determination to use it, and we shall have no need of paper declarations.
- Without an unfettered press, without liberty of speech, all the outward forms and structures of free institutions are a sham, a pretense—the sheerest mockery. If the press is not free; if speech is not independent and untrammelled; if the mind is shackled or made impotent through fear, it makes no difference under what form of government you live you are a subject and not a citizen. Republics are not in and of themselves better than other forms of government except in so far as they carry with them and guarantee to the citizen that liberty of thought and action for which they were established.
- William E. Borah, remarks in the Senate (April 19, 1917), Congressional Record, vol. 55, p. 837.
- I realize that, in speaking to you this afternoon, there are certain limitations placed upon the right of free speech. I must be exceedingly careful, prudent, as to what I say, and even more careful and prudent as to how I say it. I may not be able to say all I think; but I am not going to say anything that I do not think.
- Eugene V. Debs, speech to the Socialist party of Ohio state convention, Canton, Ohio (June 16, 1918); republished in Jean Y. Tussey, ed., Eugene V. Debs Speaks (1970), p. 244. This was Debs's most famous speech. It was a socialist antiwar speech while the United States was at war, and it was used against him at his trial. Debs was convicted under the Espionage Law and sentenced to 10 years in prison. President Warren G. Harding commuted the sentence in 1921.
- I have always been among those who believed that the greatest freedom of speech was the greatest safety, because if a man is a fool, the best thing to do is to encourage him to advertise the fact by speaking. It cannot be so easily discovered if you allow him to remain silent and look wise, but if you let him speak, the secret is out and the world knows that he is a fool. So it is by the exposure of folly that it is defeated; not by the seclusion of folly, and in this free air of free speech men get into that sort of communication with one another which constitutes the basis of all common achievement.
- Woodrow Wilson, "That Quick Comradeship of Letters," address at the Institute of France, Paris (May 10, 1919); in Ray Stannard Baker and William E. Dodd, eds., The Public Papers of Woodrow Wilson (1927), vol. 5, p. 484.
- When men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good is better reached by free trade in ideas — that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out. That at any rate is the theory of our Constitution.
- But the character of every act depends upon the circumstances in which it is done…. The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. It does not even protect a man from an injunction against uttering words that may have all the effect of force…. The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent. It is a question of proximity and degree.
- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 52 (1919).
- Often paraphrased as: "Freedom of speech does not give a person the right to shout 'Fire!' in a crowded theatre."
- After all, if freedom of speech means anything, it means a willingness to stand and let people say things with which we disagree, and which do weary us considerably.
- The Constitution is a delusion and a snare if the weakest and humblest man in the land cannot be defended in his right to speak and his right to think as much as the strongest in the land.
- So long as you are a slave to the opinions of the many you have not yet approached freedom or tasted its nectar… But I do not mean by this that we ought to be shameless before all men and to do what we ought not; but all that we refrain from and all that we do, let us not do or refrain from merely because it seems to the multitude somehow honorable or base, but because it is forbidden by reason and the god within us.
- Julian, As quoted in The Works of the Emperor Julian (1923) by Wilmer Cave France Wright, p. 47
- Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the State was to make men free to develop their faculties; and that in its government the deliberative forces should prevail over the arbitrary. They valued liberty both as an end and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty. They believed that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that without free speech and assembly discussion would be futile; that with them, discussion affords ordinarily adequate protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine; that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty; and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government.
- Those who won our independence by revolution were not cowards. They did not fear political change. They did not exalt order at the cost of liberty. To courageous, self-reliant men, with confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning applied through the processes of popular government, no danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present, unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion. If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.
- If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought — not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought we hate.
- It is no longer open to doubt that the liberty of the press, and of speech, is within the liberty safeguarded by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment from invasion by state action. It was found impossible to conclude that this essential personal liberty of the citizen was left unprotected by the general guaranty of fundamental rights of person and property.
- So, dear friend, put fear out of your heart. This nation will survive, this state will prosper, the orderly business of life will go forward if only men can speak in whatever way given them to utter what their hearts hold—by voice, by posted card, by letter or by press. Reason never has failed men. Only force and repression have made the wrecks in the world.
- William Allen White, "To an Anxious Friend," editorial, The Emporia (Kansas) Gazette (July 27, 1922), Russell H. Fitzgibbon, compiler, White, Forty Years on Main Street (1937), p. 285.
- The liberty of the press is not confined to newspapers and periodicals. It necessarily embraces pamphlets and leaflets. … the press in its historic connotation comprehends every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion.
- The freedom of speech and of the press, which are secured by the First Amendment against abridgment by the United States, are among the fundamental personal rights and liberties which are secured to all persons by the Fourteenth Amendment against abridgment by a state. The safeguarding of these rights to the ends that men may speak as they think on matters vital to them and that falsehoods may be exposed through the processes of education and discussion is essential to free government. Those who won our independence had confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning and communication of ideas to discover and spread political and economic truth.
- Freiheit ist immer Freiheit der Andersdenkenden.
- Translated as Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters.
Variant: Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently.
- Rosa Luxemburg, Sources: Die russische Revolution. Eine kritische Würdigung, Berlin 1920 p. 109 and in Rosa Luxemburg - Gesammelte Werke Vol. 4, p. 359, Footnote 3, Dietz Verlag Berlin (Ost), 1983
- Translated as Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters.
- Without general elections, without freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, without the free battle of opinions, life in every public institution withers away, becomes a caricature of itself, and bureaucracy rises as the only deciding factor.
- Rosa Luxemburg, Reported in Paul Froelich, Die Russiche Revolution (1940).
- We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want... The fourth is freedom from fear.
- The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities, and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. / One's right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.
- Back of the guarantee of free speech lay faith in the power of an appeal to reason by all the peaceful means for gaining access to the mind. It was in order to avert force and explosions due to restrictions upon rational modes of communication that the guarantee of free speech was given a generous scope. But utterance in a context of violence can lose its significance as an appeal to reason and become part of an instrument of force. Such utterance was not meant to be sheltered by the Constitution.
- Felix Frankfurter, Milk Wagon Drivers Union of Chicago, Local 753. v. Meadowmoor Dairies, Inc., 312 U.S. 287, 293 (1941).
- The security of the Nation is not at the ramparts alone. Security also lies in the value of our free institutions. A cantankerous press, an obstinate press, an ubiquitous press must be suffered by those in authority in order to preserve the even greater values of freedom of expression and the right of the people to know. In this case there has been no attempt by the Government at political suppression. There has been no attempt to stifle criticism. Yet in the last analysis it is not merely the opinion of the editorial writer or of the columnist which is protected by the First Amendment. It is the free flow of information so that the public will be informed about the Government and its actions. These are troubled times. There is no greater safety valve for discontent and cynicism about the affairs of Government than freedom of expression in any form.
- Goebbels was in favor of freedom of speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you're in favor of freedom of speech, that means you're in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.
- Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media, 1992
- The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum—even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there's free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.
- Controversy may rage as long as it adheres to the presuppositions that define the consensus of elites, and it should furthermore be encouraged within these bounds, thus helping to establish these doctrines as the very condition of thinkable thought while reinforcing the belief that freedom reigns.
- At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was ‘not done’ to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing.
- The relative freedom which we enjoy depends of public opinion. The law is no protection. Governments make laws, but whether they are carried out, and how the police behave, depends on the general temper in the country. If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it; if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.
- Threats to freedom of speech, writing and action, though often trivial in isolation, are cumulative in their effect and, unless checked, lead to a general disrespect for the rights of the citizen.
- George Orwell, "The Freedom Defence Committee" in "The Socialist Leader (18 September 1948); also in The Collected Essays, Journalism, & Letters, George Orwell; Vol. IV : In front of your nose, 1945-1950 (2000), p. 447
- Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.
- William O. Douglas, "The One Un-American Act," Speech to the Author's Guild Council in New York, on receiving the 1951 Lauterbach Award (December 3, 1952) 
- The sound of tireless voices is the price we pay for the right to hear the music of our own opinions.
- Adlai Stevenson, Adlai's Almanac: The Wit and Wisdom of Stevenson of Illinois (1952), p. 43.
- I yield to no man—if I may borrow that majestic parliamentary phrase—I yield to no man in my belief in the principle of free debate, inside or outside the halls of Congress. The sound of tireless voices is the price we pay for the right to hear the music of our own opinions. But there is also, it seems to me, a moment at which democracy must prove its capacity to act. Every man has a right to be heard; but no man has the right to strangle democracy with a single set of vocal cords.
- Adlai Stevenson, speech to the state committee of the Liberal party, New York City (August 28, 1952); in The Papers of Adlai E. Stevenson (1974), vol. 4, p. 63.
- Laws alone cannot secure freedom of expression; in order that every man may present his views without penalty, there must be a spirit of tolerance in the entire population.
- For in the absence of debate unrestricted utterance leads to the degradation of opinion. By a kind of Gresham's law the more rational is overcome by the less rational, and the opinions that will prevail will be those which are held most ardently by those with the most passionate will. For that reason the freedom to speak can never be maintained merely by objecting to interference with the liberty of the press, of printing, of broadcasting, of the screen. It can be maintained only by promoting debate.
- Walter Lippmann, Essays in the Public Philosophy (1955), chapter 9, section 3, p. 129–30.
- That there is a social problem presented by obscenity is attested by the expression of the legislatures of the forty-eight States, as well as the Congress. To recognize the existence of a problem, however, does not require that we sustain any and all measures adopted to meet that problem. The history of the application of laws designed to suppress the obscene demonstrates convincingly that the power of government can be invoked under them against great art or literature, scientific treatises, or works exciting social controversy. Mistakes of the past prove that there is a strong countervailing interest to be considered in the freedoms guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
- The standard of what offends 'the common conscience of the community' conflicts … with the command of the First Amendment. … Certainly that standard would not be an acceptable one if religion, economics, politics or philosophy were involved. How does it become a constitutional standard when literature treating with sex is concerned? / Any test that turns on what is offensive to the community's standards is too loose, too capricious, too destructive of freedom of expression to be squared with the First Amendment. Under that test, juries can censor, suppress, and punish what they don't like, provided the matter relates to 'sexual impurity' or has a tendency to 'excite lustful thoughts.' This is community censorship in one of its worst forms...
- We are required in this case to determine for the first time the extent to which the constitutional protections for speech and press limit a State's power to award damages in a libel action brought by a public official against critics of his official conduct.
- [There exists a] profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.
- Authoritative interpretations of the First Amendment guarantees have consistently refused to recognize an exception for any test of truth — whether administered by judges, juries, or administrative officials — and especially one that puts the burden of proving truth on the speaker.
- The censor is always quick to justify his function in terms that are protective of society. But the First Amendment, written in terms that are absolute, deprives the States of any power to pass on the value, the propriety, or the morality of a particular expression.
- The dissemination of the individual's opinions on matters of public interest is for us, in the historic words of the Declaration of Independence, an 'unalienable right' that 'governments are instituted among men to secure.' History shows us that the Founders were not always convinced that unlimited discussion of public issues would be 'for the benefit of all of us' but that they firmly adhered to the proposition that the 'true liberty of the press' permitted 'every man to publish his opinion'.
- Whatever may be the justifications for other statutes regulating obscenity, we do not think they reach into the privacy of one's own home. If the First Amendmen means anything, it means that a State has no business telling a man, sitting alone in his own house, what books he may read or what films he may watch. Our whole constitutional heritage rebels at the thought of giving government the power to control men's minds.
- First Amendment rights, applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment, are available to teachers and students. It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.
- In order for the State in the person of school officials to justify prohibition of a particular expression of opinion, it must be able to show that its action was caused by something more than a mere desire to avoid the discomfort and unpleasantness that always accompany an unpopular viewpoint.
- Abe Fortas, (Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 1969).
- Under our Constitution, free speech is not a right that is given only to be so circumscribed that it exists in principle but not in fact. Freedom of expression would not truly exist if the right could be exercised only in an area that a benevolent government has provided as a safe haven for crackpots. The Constitution says that Congress (and the States) may not abridge the right to free speech. This provision means what it says. We properly read it to permit reasonable regulation of speech-connected activities in carefully restricted circumstances. But we do not confine the permissible exercise of First Amendment rights to a telephone booth or the four corners of a pamphlet, or to supervised and ordained discussion in a school classroom.
- Abe Fortas, (Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 1969).
- ... I would not in this case decide, even by way of dicta, that the Government may lawfully seize literary material intended for the purely private use of the importer. The terms of the statute appear to apply to an American tourist who, after exercising his constitutionally protected liberty to travel abroad, returns home with a single book in his luggage, with no intention of selling it or otherwise using it, except to read it. If the Government can constitutionally take the book away from him as he passes through customs, then I do not understand the meaning of Stanley v. Georgia.
- The word "security" is a broad, vague generality whose contours should not be invoked to abrogate the fundamental law embodied in the First Amendment. The guarding of military and diplomatic secrets at the expense of informed representative government provides no real security for our Republic.
- Effective self-government cannot succeed unless the people are immersed in a steady, robust, unimpeded, and uncensored flow of opinion and reporting which are continuously subjected to critique, rebuttal, and reexamination.
- The people, the ultimate governors, must have absolute freedom of, and therefore privacy of, their individual opinions and beliefs regardless of how suspect or strange they may appear to others. Ancillary to that principle is the conclusion that an individual must also have absolute privacy over whatever information he may generate in the course of testing his opinions and beliefs.
- It is my view that there is no "compelling need" that can be shown which qualifies the reporter's immunity from appearing or testifying before a grand jury, unless the reporter himself is implicated in a crime. His immunity, in my view, is therefore quite complete, for, absent his involvement in a crime, the First Amendment protects him against an appearance before a grand jury, and, if he is involved in a crime, the Fifth Amendment stands as as a barrier. … And since, in my view, a newsman has an absolute right not to appear before a grand jury, it follows for me that a journalist who voluntarily appears before that body may invoke his First Amendment privilege to specific questions.
- We conclude that public figures and public officials may not recover for the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress by reason of publications such as the one here at issue without showing, in addition, that the publication contains a false statement of fact which was made with 'actual malice,' i.e., with knowledge that the statement was false or with reckless disregard as to whether or not it was true. This is not merely a 'blind application' of the New York Times standard, see Time, Inc. v. Hill, 385 U.S. 374, 390 (1967); it reflects our considered judgment that such a standard is necessary to give adequate "breathing space" to the freedoms protected by the First Amendment.
- At the heart of the First Amendment is the recognition of the fundamental importance of the free flow of ideas and opinions on matters of public interest and concern. The freedom to speak one's mind is not only an aspect of individual liberty – and thus a good unto itself – but also is essential to the common quest for truth and the vitality of society as a whole. We have therefore been particularly vigilant to ensure that individual expressions of ideas remain free from governmentally imposed sanctions.
- If there is a bedrock principle of the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.
- What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.
- Inconvenience does not absolve the government of its obligation to tolerate speech.
- Anthony Kennedy, International Society for Krishna Consciousness v. Lee, 505 U.S. 672, 672 (1992) (concurring).
- As a young constitutional lawyer, I was put to the first amendment test when I was called on to defend racists and neo-Nazis. I really had no choice. Surely now we know that none of us do. Free speech is unequivocal, unpolitical, and indivisible.
- Nobody deserves to be hurt, especially not for an idea.
- Kreshia Thomas, a black teenager who put herself in harm's way to protect a white man wearing Nazi tattoos and Confederate flag clothing from being beaten and kicked by an angry mob that thought he supported the racist Ku Klux Klan Wynne, Catherine (2013). The teenager who saved a man with an SS tattoo. British Broadcasting Corporation.
- I rise today to support the efforts of citizens everywhere to protect free speech on the Internet. Today, the Supreme Court heard arguments to determine the constitutionality of the Communications Decency Act [CDA], which criminalizes certain speech on the Internet. It is because of the hard work and dedication to free speech by netizens everywhere that this issue has gained the attention of the public, and now, our Nation's highest court. I have maintained from the very beginning that the CDA is unconstitutional, and I eagerly await the Supreme Court's decision on this case.
- One question that remains is at what point an individual Net poster has the right to assume prerogatives that have traditionally been only the province of journalists and news-gathering organizations. When the Pentagon Papers landed on the doorstep of the New York Times, the newspaper was able to publish under the First Amendment's guarantees of freedom of speech, and to make a strong argument in court that publication was in the public interest. … the amplification inherent in the combination of the Net's high-speed communications and the size of the available population has greatly changed the balance of power.
- Freedom of speech is central to most every other right that we hold dear in the United States and serves to strengthen the democracy of our great country. It is unfortunate, then, when actions occur that might be interpreted as contrary to this honored tenet.
- At the core of freedom of expression lies the need to ensure that truth and the common good are attained, whether in scientific and artistic endeavors or in the process of determining the best course to take in our political affairs. Since truth and the ideal form of political and social organization can rarely, if at all, be identified with absolute certainty, it is difficult to prohibit expression without impeding the free exchange of potentially valuable information. Nevertheless, the argument from truth does not provide convincing support for the protection of hate propaganda. Taken to its extreme, this argument would require us to permit the communication of all expression, it being impossible to know with absolute certainty which factual statements are true, or which ideas obtain the greatest good. The problem with this extreme position, however, is that the greater the degree of certainty that a statement is erroneous or mendacious, the less its value in the quest for truth. Indeed, expression can be used to the detriment of our search for truth; the state should not be the sole arbiter of truth, but neither should we overplay the view that rationality will overcome all falsehoods in the unregulated marketplace of ideas. There is very little chance that statements intended to promote hatred against an identifiable group are true, or that their vision of society will lead to a better world. To portray such statements as crucial to truth and the betterment of the political and social milieu is therefore misguided.
- First Amendment freedoms are most in danger when the government seeks to control thought or to justify its laws for that impermissible end. The right to think is the beginning of freedom, and speech must be protected from the government because speech is the beginning of thought.
- The Government may not suppress lawful speech as the means to suppress unlawful speech.
- Dissents speak to a future age. It's not simply to say, 'My colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way.' But the greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time their views become the dominant view. So that's the dissenter's hope: that they are writing not for today but for tomorrow.