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Free Speech, Fighting Words, and Violence

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  • Create Date January 21, 2023
  • Last Updated May 15, 2024

Free Speech, Fighting Words, and Violence

How do we protect free speech and ensure public safety despite ongoing threats of violence?

Some Americans feel violated by flag burning; some by racist rallies. As extremist groups use violence to gain media attention, most Americans oppose the use of violence. “Fighting words” against individuals in public are not protected free speech (see 1942 SCOTUS decision), but the definition of “fighting words” is unclear and has led to inconsistent court decisions (Wikipedia). Should the government restrict the freedoms of speech and assembly of any groups or individuals, and if so, under what circumstances? Is too much tolerance dangerous, or is giving an authority the power to restrict freedom of speech and assembly even more dangerous?

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