U.S. Supreme Court Delineates Boundaries of Freedom of Speech


A legal practitioner in Texas, Mary Margaret Meg Penrose represents clients in First Amendment, Title IX, and criminal defense cases. A professor of law at Texas A&M University School of Law, Mary Margaret Penrose teaches constitutional law with an emphasis on the First Amendment.

Part of the First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of press.” The First Amendment protects the public from legal sanctions by the U.S. government, including jail and fines, because of the content of their speech. Therefore, it is unconstitutional for the government to target speakers for criticizing its policies. Similarly, it is unconstitutional for the government to target speakers who advocate for certain values such as the right to life.

Although the wording of the Constitution says “Congress,” the U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the term broadly to include all government agencies at the federal and state levels. In a similar light, the Supreme Court has broadly interpreted “speech” to include speaking, writing, printing, and other types of symbolic expression such as wearing a shirt or waving a flag and “press” to include broadcasting and uploading content on the internet.

However, this protection is not absolute. The Supreme Court has ruled, in certain instances, that some forms of speech are not constitutionally protected. For example, defamatory remarks against a private person, threats to commit a crime or to assault another person, obscenities, and child pornography are not protected forms of free speech.