Welcome back to Common Sense Civics and Citizenship. Speak Up! That’s our focus this week. I hope you find these articles instructive and encouraging as you exercise your First Amendment rights. Someone asked me if we are allowed to criticize any public official at the highest levels. Imagine not knowing your rights or the extent of them! We will be subjects of the government, rather than fellow citizens if we don’t know our rights. So, let’s begin now with our first article entitled, “Speak Up!”
Do you have the right to criticize your government, its elected officials, or its appointees? Yes, under the First Amendment’s guaranteed right to freedom of speech, you do. Does this right extend only to the federal government? Or does it include state and local governments as well? Yes, all three levels of government in the United States guarantee this right. Initially, the First Amendment right to free speech was limited to Congress’ actions. Through the years, courts have expanded free speech rights to individual citizens within all government-federal, state, and local levels.
I was teaching the Bill of Rights to my 11 and 12-year-old students last week. They were surprised to find that you could hold a picket sign that calls someone a crass name. If you’ve spent any time on this page, “Common Sense Civics and Citizenship,” you know I don’t recommend or accept that language. However, I explained to my students that you could not hold a picket sign or speak words threatening anyone’s life, limb, or property. You can’t incite violence either. My civics students are young, so you have to keep it simple and use examples they can understand. Otherwise, they may think they can get thrown in jail for calling someone a “bully.”
Now, for us adults, what other words or picket signs violate the First Amendment? Obscenity. It’s not what you think it is. It is worse. I cannot violate this platform’s definition of speech with examples, so if you have a question, look up something like “First Amendment violations.”
In most cases, you cannot lie as protected speech, like under oath or deceptive advertising.
Government employees DO have free speech rights when they speak out as citizens. Otherwise, there are restrictions on government employees. One of my former contacts said as much when I asked about certain government employees who worked in the House of Representatives and were fired for their speech. There are legal limits to what you can say as a government employee that differs from what you can say when acting as a private citizen who is not speaking in an official capacity.
So, can you speak out critically at a School Board meeting? Yes. What if you are a teacher but are speaking out as a parent? According to what I have read, yes. This is legal. Can you threaten anyone under the First Amendment’s right to free speech? No, you cannot. Can you slander or lie about government officials under the First Amendment? No. That is not protected speech. You may think to yourselves, “Well, everybody does it.” “Everybody” is not the law. We cannot live in freedom if lying and slander are publicly allowed under the law. On the other hand, we cannot live in freedom if we are denied our rights under the First Amendment.
Fellow Americans, we need to continue to exercise our free speech rights, or we will no longer live free.
This is Common Sense Civics and Citizenship.🇺🇸