The First Amendment guarantees Americans plenty of rights and freedoms. For example, it guarantees them the right to practice whatever they prefer as religion. It also accords them the right to petition any level of the government. What is more, it guarantees Americans the Freedom of Speech. Here, though, Americans the First Amendment defines what is and isn’t covered. Certain types of speech are not covered under this freedom. In this regard, any person whose speech contains any type of fighting words can’t enjoy this right.
What does fighting words mean?
To understand why the First Amendment omits fighting words under Freedom of Speech, one would need to grasp the meaning of that phrase. In the United States, such words refer to speech made to insult or provoke somebody. For the most part, such words can be of sexist, racial, or ethnic nature. Additionally, the American courts have defined fighting words as any spoken word that is designed to inflict injuries or incite people into breaching the peace that everybody within a community enjoys.
The First Amendment doesn’t offer any protection to this type of words. Generally, the courts would quash your application or defense the moment it proves that your words incited, insulted, provoked, or drove an individual or a group of people to act lawlessly. In many instances, fighting words can encourage people to hate a person, race, or group of people for no valid reason. Here, the law would then favor the people who are the object of the hatred. Those who hate, would then be unable to cite Freedom of Speech in their defense.
When did the First Amendment omit fighting words?
Initially, the First Amendment simply stipulated that all Americans were guaranteed Freedom of Speech. It never went further to speak about this issue. Over the years, the definition of what constitutes free speech and what doesn’t has been in the hands of the American courts. The courts determined that fighting words could not enjoy the protection that the First Amendment offers. It did this in 1942 in what has become known as Chaplinsky vs. State of New Hampshire. That case created what is now called the ‘Fighting Words Doctrine.’
The issue of fighting words has become quite emotive in colleges around the United States. Often, college administrators pass out various types of sentences to students they claim are out to cause a breach of peace. It is little wonder that plenty of interest exists on this issue. Americans from different backgrounds want to know if their words could come back to bite them where it hurts the most. Different examples are cited to show that Americans are abusing this freedom. Nevertheless, the courts continue defining this omission differently.
In 1971, the Supreme Court of the United States determined that offensive words are not fighting words. Consequently, anyone proved to have spoken offensive words is entitled to enjoy the protection that the First Amendment – through the Freedom of Speech – offers. On the other hand, if your words led to a fight, then you would not be able to cite this as your defense. The fighting words you – or anyone else for that matter – speak have to be capable of causing a violent reaction from your audience.
The types of words you speak that don’t belong in the category of fighting words include:
Therefore, it’s better to exercise a bit of caution whenever you feel pushed to speak your mind on certain issues. Otherwise, you could very well discover that you are unable to build your defense on the Freedom of Speech that the First Amendment guarantees you and all other Americans. You could lose the case if the courts determines that what you uttered falls in the category of speech known as fighting words. Consequently, you may have plenty of work to do to prove to the court that your words were never designed to cause or create violent reactions.