Let’s start here: since the middle of the last century, the constitutionally accepted default option is to protect speech. And one more thing, the First Amendment does not provide any guidelines for civility. Boisterous, angry, offensive speech is shielded from silence by the power of the First Amendment. It provides cover for us to annoy or even frighten one another, but the boundary of protection is drawn at language that incites others to cause harm and at language that in and of itself terrorizes its target.
Where does that leave us in this time of vitriolic school board meetings replete with angry outbursts and even death threats? The situation has become so grave that the FBI has undertaken the task of tracking threats against school board members. Our constitutionally protected freedom to speak gives enraged parents cover, that is until they cross the line and provoke violence or induce dread.
It sometimes shocks and even enrages American citizens and those who reside among us that only in the narrowest of circumstances will speech be punished or shut down. Speech will be protected unless the possibility of violence and harm is immediate and grave. Hyperbolic, angry, even threatening…Read More
Lynn Greenky is an Associate Teaching Professor at Syracuse University in the Department of Communication and Rhetorical Studies. She teaches a beloved undergraduate course about the First Amendment. She is the author of When Freedom Speaks: The Boundaries and Boundlessness of the First Amendment. You can follow her on Twitter @LGreenky.