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First Amendment timeline

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Significant historical events, court cases, and ideas that have shaped our current system of constitutional First Amendment jurisprudence:

1641
The Massachusetts General Court drafts the first broad statement of American liberties, the Massachusetts Body of Liberties. The document includes a right to petition and a statement about due process.

1663
Rhode Island grants religious freedom.

1689
Publication of John Locke's Letter Concerning Toleration. It provides the philosophical basis for George Mason's proposed Article Sixteen of the Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776, which deals with religion. Mason's proposal provides that "all Men should enjoy the fullest toleration in the exercise of religion."

1708
Connecticut passes first dissenter statute and allows "full liberty of worship" to Anglicans and Baptists.

1735
Libel trial of New York publisher John Peter Zenger for published criticism of the Royal Governor of New York. Zenger is defended by Andrew Hamilton and acquitted. His trial establishes the principle that truth is a defense to libel and that a jury may determine whether a publication is defamatory or seditious.

1771
The State of Virginia jails 50 Baptist worshipers for preaching the Gospel contrary to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.

1774
Eighteen Baptists are jailed in Massachusetts for refusing to pay taxes that support the Congregational church.

1776
Virginia's House of Burgesses passes the Virginia Declaration of Rights. The Virginia Declaration is the first bill of rights to be included in a state constitution in America.

1777
Thomas Jefferson completes his first draft of a Virginia state bill for religious freedom, which states:

"No man shall be forced to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever."

The bill later becomes the famous Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.

1776
The Continental Congress adopts the final draft of the Declaration of Independence on July 4.

1786
The Virginia legislature adopts the Ordinance of Religious Freedom, which disestablishes the Anglican Church as the official church and prohibits harassment based on religious differences.

1787
Congress passes the Northwest Ordinance. Though primarily a law establishing government guidelines for colonization of new territory, it also provides that "religion, morality and knowledge being necessary also to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged."

1791
On December 15, Virginia becomes the 11th state to approve the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights.

1796
Andrew Jackson opposes the inclusion of the word "God" in Tennessee's constitution.

1798
President John Adams oversees the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts. In response, James Madison issues the "Virginia Resolution" and Thomas Jefferson introduces the "Kentucky Resolution" to give states the power to declare the Alien and Sedition Acts null and void.

On September 12, newspaper editor Benjamin Franklin Bache, the grandson of Benjamin Franklin, is arrested under the Sedition Act for libeling President John Adams.

19th Century

The 19th century witnesses a Supreme Court hostile to many claims of freedom of speech and assembly. Fewer than 12 First Amendment cases come before the court between 1791 and 1889, according to First Amendment scholar Michael Gibson. This is due to the prevailing view among federal judges that the Bill of Rights does not apply to state actions.

1801
Congress lets the Sedition Act of 1798 expire, and President Thomas Jefferson pardons all person convicted under the Act. The act had punished those who uttered or published "false, scandalous, and malicious" writings against the government.

1836
The U.S. House of Representatives adopts gag rules preventing discussion of antislavery proposals. The House repeals the rules in 1844.

1859
John Stuart Mill publishes the essay "On Liberty." The essay expands John Milton's argument that if speech is free and the search for knowledge unfettered, then eventually the truth will rise to the surface.

1863
General Ambrose Burnside of the Union Army orders the suspension of the publication of the Chicago Times, pursuant to the right of a commander to silence public expression of ideas and information deemed harmful to the military effort. President Lincoln rescinds Burnside's order three days later.

1864
General John A. Dix, a Union commander, orders the New York Journal of Commerce and the New York World closed after both papers publish a forged presidential proclamation purporting to order another draft of 400,000 men. Publication of the papers resumes two days later.

1868
The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution is ratified. The amendment, in part, requires that no State shall deprive "any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

1891
The 100th anniversary of the Bill of Rights.

20th Century

Free-speech claims form a substantive and integral part of the early 20th-century First Amendment cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. This may well be due to the extraordinary social upheavals of the era: massive late-19th-century immigration movements, World War I and the spread of socialism in the U.S.

1907
In Patterson v. Colorado—its first free-press case—the U.S. Supreme Court determines it does not have jurisdiction to review the "contempt" conviction of U. S. senator and Denver newspaper publisher Thomas Patterson for articles and a cartoon that criticized the state supreme court. The Court writes that "what constitutes contempt, as well as the time during which it may be committed, is a matter of local law." Leaving undecided the question of whether First Amendment guarantees are applicable to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment, the Court holds that the free-speech and press guarantees only guard against prior restraint and do not prevent "subsequent punishment."

1917
Congress passes the Espionage Act, making it a crime "to willfully cause or attempt to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty, in the military or naval forces of the United States," or to "willfully obstruct the recruiting or enlistment service" of the United States."

1917
The Civil Liberties Bureau, a forerunner of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), is formed to oppose the Espionage Act.

1918
Congress passes the Sedition Act, which forbids spoken or printed criticism of the U.S. government, the Constitution or the flag.

1919
In Schenck v. U.S., U.S. Supreme Court Justice Holmes sets forth his clear-and-present-danger test: "whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has the right to prevent." Schenck and others had been accused of urging draftees to oppose the draft and "not submit to intimidation." Justice Holmes also writes that not all speech is protected by the First Amendment, citing the now-famous example of falsely crying "fire" in a crowded theater.

1919
In Debs v. U.S., the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the conviction of socialist and presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs under the Espionage Act for making speeches opposing World War I. Justice Holmes claims to apply the "clear and present danger" test; however, he phrases it as requiring that Debs' words have a "natural tendency and reasonably probable effect" of obstructing recruitment.

1920
Founding of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

1921
Congress repeals the Sedition Acts.

1925
In Gitlow v. New York, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds under the New York criminal anarchy statute Gitlow's conviction for writing and distributing "The Left Wing Manifesto." The Court concludes, however, that the free-speech clause of the First Amendment applies to the states through the due-process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

1925
The "Scopes Monkey Trial" occurs in Dayton, Tenn. School-teacher John Thomas Scopes is found guilty of violating a Tennessee law which prohibits teaching the theory of evolution in public schools. The case pits famed orator William Jennings Bryan against defense attorney Clarence Darrow.

1926
H.L. Mencken is arrested for distributing copies of American Mercury. Censorship groups in Boston declare the periodical obscene.

1928
In People of State of New York ex rel. Bryant v. Zimmerman, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds a New York law which mandates that organizations requiring their members to take oaths file certain organizational documents with the secretary of state. The Court writes: "There can be no doubt that under that power the state may prescribe and apply to associations having an oath-bound membership any reasonable regulation calculated to confine their purposes and activities within limits which are consistent with the rights of others and public welfare."

1931
In Stromberg v. California, the U.S. Supreme Court reverses the state court conviction of a 19-year-old female member of the Young Communist League, who violated a state law prohibiting the display of a red flag as "an emblem of opposition to the United States government." Legal commentators cite this case as the first in which the Court recognizes that protected speech may be nonverbal, or a form of symbolic expression.

1931
In Near v. Minnesota, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidates a permanent injunction against the publisher of The Saturday Press. The Court rules that the Minnesota statute granting state judges the power to enjoin as a nuisance any "malicious, scandalous and defamatory newspaper, magazine or other periodical" is "the essence of censorship." The Court concluded that the primary aim of the First Amendment was to prevent prior restraints of the press.

1933
President Franklin D. Roosevelt pardons those convicted under the Espionage and Sedition Acts.

1933
California repeals its Red Flag Law, ruled unconstitutional in Stromberg.

1936
In Grosjean v. American Press Co., the U.S. Supreme Court invalidates a state tax on newspaper advertising applied to papers with a circulation exceeding 20,000 copies per week as a violation of the First Amendment. The Court finds the tax unconstitutional because "it is seen to be a deliberate and calculated device in the guise of a tax to limit the circulation of information to which the public is entitled ..."

1937
In DeJonge v. Oregon, the U.S. Supreme Court reverses the conviction of an individual under a state criminal syndicalism law for participation in a Communist party political meeting. The Court writes that "peaceable assembly for lawful discussion cannot be made a crime. The holding of meetings for peaceable political action cannot be proscribed."

1938
Life magazine is banned in the U.S. for publishing pictures from the public health film The Birth of a Baby.

1939
Georgia, Massachusetts and Connecticut finally ratify the Bill of Rights.

1940
Congress passes the Smith Act, or the Alien Registration Act of 1940, which makes it a crime to advocate the violent overthrow of the government.

1940
In Thornhill v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down an Alabama law prohibiting loitering and picketing "without a just cause or legal excuse" near businesses. The Court writes: "The freedom of speech and of the press guaranteed by the Constitution embraces at the least the liberty to discuss publicly and truthfully all matters of public concern without previous restraint or fear of subsequent punishment."

1940
In Cantwell v. Connecticut, the U.S. Supreme Court holds for the first time that the due-process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment makes the free-exercise clause of the First Amendment applicable to states.

1941
Congress authorizes President Franklin D. Roosevelt to create the Office of Censorship.

1942
The U.S. Supreme Court determines "fighting words" are not protected by the First Amendment. In Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, the Court defines "fighting words" as "those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of peace." The Court states that such words are "no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality."

1943
In West Virginia State Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that a West Virginia requirement to salute the flag violates the free-speech clause of the First Amendment.

1943
In National Broadcasting Co. v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court states that no one has a First Amendment right to a radio license or to monopolize a radio frequency.

1947
In Everson v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds a state program which reimburses parents for money spent on transporting their children to parochial schools. The Court finds that the state provision of free bus transportation to all school children amounts only to a general service benefit and safeguards children rather than aiding religion.

1949
In Terminiello v. Chicago, the U.S. Supreme Court limits the scope of the "fighting words" doctrine. Writing for the majority, Justice Douglas says that the "function of free speech … is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger."

1951
In Dennis v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the convictions of 12 Communist Party members convicted under the Smith Act of 1940. The Court finds that the Smith Act, a measure banning speech which advocates the violent overthrow of the federal government, is not in undue conflict with the First Amendment.

1957
The U.S. Supreme Court determines that "obscenity is not within the area of constitutionally protected speech or press." In Roth v. United States, the Court defines obscenity as "material which deals with sex in a manner appealing to prurient interest." The mere portrayal of sex, however, in art, literature, scientific works and similar forums "is not itself sufficient reason to deny material the constitutional protection of freedom of speech and press," the Court states. Additionally, the Court notes that speech is obscene when "to the average person applying contemporary community standards, the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole appeals to prurient interests."

1958
The U.S. Supreme Court allows the NAACP of Alabama to withhold its membership list from Alabama lawmakers. In NAACP v. Alabama, the Court states that the demand by Alabama officials for the NAACP to provide them a membership list violates members' associational rights.

1959
The U.S. Supreme Court upholds the conviction of a college professor who refuses, on First Amendment grounds, to answer questions before the House Un-American Activities Committee. In Barenblatt v. United States, the Court states that, where "First Amendment rights are asserted to bar governmental interrogation, resolution of the issue always involves a balancing by the courts of the competing private and public interests at stake." The Court concludes that the investigation is for a valid legislative purpose and that "investigatory power in this domain is not to be denied Congress solely because the field of education is involved."

1962
The U.S. Supreme Court rules that a state-composed, non-denominational prayer violates the the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. In Engel v. Vitale, the Court states that such a prayer represents government sponsorship of religion.

1963
The U.S. Supreme Court finds that a South Carolina policy denying unemployment compensation to a Seventh Day Adventist refusing to work on Saturdays is in violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. In Sherbert v. Verner, the Court determines that a law which has the unintended effect of burdening religious beliefs will be upheld only when it is the least restrictive means of accomplishing a compelling state objective.

1964
In New York Times v. Sullivan, the U.S. Supreme Court overturns a libel judgment against The New York Times. The Court rules that public officials may not recover damages for a defamatory falsehood relating to their conduct unless they prove the statement was made with actual malice. The Court defines actual malice as "with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not."

1966
The U.S. Supreme Court invalidates a Massachusetts court decision which found the 1750 book, A Woman of Pleasure, obscene. In Memoirs v. Massachusetts, Justice Brennan writes that a book which possesses the requisite prurient appeal to be declared obscene cannot be banned unless it is found to be utterly without redeeming social value.

1966
In Elfbrant v. Russell, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidates an Arizona statute requiring the dismissal of any state employee who knowingly becomes a member of the Communist Party or any party whose intentions include overthrowing the U.S. government.

1966
In Sheppard v. Maxwell, the U.S. Supreme Court reverses the murder conviction of Dr. Sam Sheppard because the trial judge failed to quell publicity surrounding the trial.

1967
In United States v. O'Brien, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the conviction of O'Brien, an anti-war protester accused of violating a federal statute prohibiting the public destruction of draft cards. O'Brien claims that the burning of draft cards is "symbolic speech" protected by the First Amendment. The Court concludes that conduct combining "speech" and "non-speech" elements can be regulated if the following four requirements are met: (1) the regulation is within the constitutional power of the government; (2) it furthers an "important or substantial" government interest; (3) the interest is "unrelated to suppression of free expression;" and (4) "incidental restriction" on First Amendment freedoms is "no greater than is essential to the furtherance" of the government interest. The Court concludes that all requirements were satisfied in this case.

1968
In Epperson v. Arkansas, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidates an Arkansas statute prohibiting public school teachers from teaching evolution. The Court finds that the statute violates the Establishment Clause because it bans the teaching of evolution solely on religious grounds.

1969
The rights of public school students suspended for wearing black armbands to school in protest of the Vietnam War are vindicated by the U.S. Supreme Court. In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the prohibition violates the students' First Amendment rights. Justice Abe Fortas writes that students do not "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate."

1969
In Brandenburg v. Ohio, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that speech advocating the use of force or crime is not protected if (1) the advocacy is "directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action" and (2) the advocacy is also "likely to incite or produce such action."

1969
In Stanley v. Georgia, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the First and Fourteenth Amendments protect a person's "private possession of obscene matter" from criminal prosecution. The Court notes that the state, although possessing broad authority to regulate obscene material, cannot punish private possession of such in an individual's own home.

1969
In Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. Federal Communication Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court finds that Congress and the FCC did not violate the First Amendment when they required a radio or television station to allow response time to persons subjected to personal attacks and political editorializing on air.

1970
In Walz v. Tax Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court finds that a state law exempting the property or income of religious organizations from taxation does not violate the Establishment Clause. The Court states that history has revealed no danger that such exemptions will give rise to either a religious effect or an entanglement of government and religion.


1971
In New York Times v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court allows continued publication of the Pentagon Papers. The Court holds that the central purpose of the First Amendment is to "prohibit the widespread practice of governmental suppression of embarrassing information." This case establishes that the press has almost absolute immunity from pre-publication restraints.

1971
In Cohen v. California, the U.S. Supreme Court reverses the breach-of-peace conviction of an individual who wore a jacket with the words "F--- the Draft" into a courthouse. The Court concludes that offensive and profane speech are protected by the First Amendment.

1971
In Lemon v. Kurtzman, the U.S. Supreme Court establishes a three-part test to determine whether a governmental action violates the Establishment Clause. The test specifies that (1) the action must have a secular purpose; (2) its primary effect must neither advance nor inhibit religion; and (3) there must be no excessive government entanglement.

1972
The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Branzburg v. Hayes that the First Amendment does not exempt reporters from "performing the citizen's normal duty of appearing and furnishing information relevant to the grand jury's task." The Court rejects a reporter's claim that the flow of information available to the press will be seriously curtailed if reporters are forced to release the names of confidential sources for use in a government investigation.

1972
In Wisconsin v. Yoder, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the state of Wisconsin cannot require Amish children to attend school beyond the eighth grade.

1972
In Lloyd Corp. v. Tanner, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that owners of a shopping center may bar anti-war activists from distributing leaflets at the center. The Court finds that citizens do not have a First Amendment right to express themsleves on privately-owned property.

1973
The U.S. Supreme Court in Miller v. California defines the test for determining if speech is obscene: (1) whether the "average person applying contemporary community standards" would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest, (2) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law, and (3) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

1973
The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Paris Adult Theatre I v. Slaton that a state may constitutionally prohibit exhibitions or displays of obscenity, even if access to the exhibitions is limited to consenting adults.

1974
In Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidates a state law requiring newspapers to give free reply space to political candidates the newspapers criticize. The Court rules that the right of newspaper editors to choose what they wish to print or not to print cannot be infringed to allow public access to the print media.

1976
In Buckley v. Valeo, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that certain provisions of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1976, which limits expenditures to political campaigns, violate the First Amendment.

1976
The U.S. Supreme Court rules that the First Amendment does not apply to privately owned shopping centers. In Hudgens v. National Labor Relations Board, the Court holds that as long as the state does not encourage, aid or command the suppression of free speech, the First Amendment is not subverted by the actions of shopping-center owners.

1976
The U.S. Supreme Court finds that an appropriately defined zoning ordinace barring the location of an "adult movie theatre" within 100 feet of any two other "regulated uses," does not violate the First Amendment-even if the theater is not showing obscene material. In Young v. American Mini Theaters, the Court concludes that the ordinance is not a prior restraint and is a proper use of the city's zoning authority.

1976
The U.S. Supreme Court rules that the public has a First Amendment right to the free flow of truthful information about lawful commercial activities. In Virginia State Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, the Court invalidates a Virginia law prohibiting the advertisement of prescription drug prices.

1977
In Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court declares that a state may require a public employee to pay dues to organizations such as unions and state bars, as long as the money is used for purposes such as collective bargaining and contract and grievance hearings. The Court notes that, pursuant to the First Amendment, state workers may not be forced to give to political candidates or to fund political messages unrelated to their employee organization's bargaining function.

1978
The Illinois Supreme Court rules in NSPA v. Skokie that the National Socialist Party of America (NSPA), a neo-Nazi group, can march through Skokie, Ill., a community inhabited by a number of Holocaust survivors.

1978
The U.S. Supreme Court upholds the power of the FCC to regulate indecent speech broadcast over the air. In FCC v. Pacifica, the Court allows FCC regulation because the broadcast media are a "uniquely pervasive presence" and easily accessible to children. The Court, however, does make clear that, although the government can constitutionally regulate indecent speech in the broadcast media, it does not have power to enforce a total ban on such speech.

1980
In Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation v. Public Service Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court sets forth a four-part test for determining when commercial speech may or may not be regulated by states. The test states that: (1) the commercial speech must not be misleading or involve illegal activity, (2) the government interest advanced by the regulation must be substantial, (3) the regulation must directly advance the asserted government interest, (4) the government regulation must not be more extensive than is necessary to serve the governmental interest at stake.

1982
The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Board of Education v. Pico that school officials may not remove books from school libraries because they disagree with the ideas contained in the books.

1984
Congress passes the Equal Access Act. The federal law prohibits secondary schools that are receiving federal financial assistance from denying equal access to student groups on the basis of religious, political or philosophical beliefs or because of the content of their speech.

1985
In Wallace v. Jaffree, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidates an Alabama law authorizing a one-minute silent period at the start of each school day "for meditation or voluntary prayer." The Court finds that the law was enacted to endorse religion, thus violating the Establishment Clause.

1986
The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Witters v. Washington Dept. of Services for the Blind that a vocational rehabilitation-assistance program which awards grants and scholarships to students does not violate the Establishment Clause, even if some recipients use the funds to attend religious schools.

Also in 1986: Bethel School District v. Fraser. This case was said to set back the Tinker case. Bethel School District in Spanaway, Wash., suspended 17-year-old Matthew Fraser, an honors student, for two days after what was considered a lewd spring election campaign speech at a school assembly with 600 students present. His candidate won. However, the courts held that the manner of speech, delivered before a captive audience, rather than the content, was disruptive and contrary to the values the school intended to promote.

1987
In Edwards v. Aquillard, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidates a Louisiana statute that bars the teaching of evolution in public schools unless the teaching is accompanied by instruction about creationism.

1988
In Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that school officials may exercise editorial control over content of school-sponsored student publications if they do so in a way that is reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.

1989
Congress passes the Flag Protection Act. The act punishes anyone who "knowingly mutilates, defaces, physically defiles, burns, maintains on the floor or ground, or tramples upon any U.S. flag ..."

1989
In Texas. v. Johnson, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that burning the American flag is a constitutionally protected form of free speech.

1990
The U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. v. Eichman invalidates the Flag Protection Act of 1989. The Court finds that the statute violates free speech.

1990
The Equal Access Act is found constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in Board of Education of Westside Community Schools v. Mergens.

1990
In Employment Division v. Smith, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that "the right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a valid and neutral law of general applicability on the ground that the law proscribes ... conduct that his religion prescribes ... "

1991
In Simon & Schuster, Inc. v. Members of the New York State Crime Victims Board, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidates the New York "Son of Sam" law that requires convicted persons to turn over to the state proceeds from any work describing their crimes. Justice O'Connor finds that the law is overbroad and that it regulates speech based on content.

1991
The bicentennial anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights.

1992
The U.S. Supreme Court determines in Lee v. Weisman that an administrative policy allowing religious invocations at public high-school graduation ceremonies violates the Establishment Clause.

1992
In R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidates a Minnesota hate-speech statute, saying it violates the First Amendment.

1993
In Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School District, the U.S. Supreme Court finds that the Establishment Clause is not subverted when a public school district provides a sign-language interpreter to a deaf student attending a parochial school within the district's boundaries. The Court states that it has "consistently held that government programs that neutrally provide benefits to a broad class of citizens defined without reference to religion are not readily subject to an Establishment Clause challenge because sectarian institutions may also receive an attenuate financial benefit."

1993
Congress passes the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)

1994
The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Board of Educ. of Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Grumet that a 1989 New York law creating a separate school district for a small religious village violates the Establishment Clause.

1994
In Rosenberger v. Rectors of the University of Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidates a policy denying funds to a Christian student newspaper on free-speech and Establishment Clause grounds. The Court finds that, once a public university chooses to fund some student viewpoints, it may not choose which viewpoints to fund.

1996
The U.S. Supreme Court in 44 Liquormart, Inc. v. State of Rhode Island, invalidates a state law forbidding all advertising of liquor prices.

1997
The U.S. Supreme Court in Reno v. ACLU rules that the federal Communications Decency Act of 1996 is unconstitutional. The Court concludes that the Act, which makes it a crime to put adult-oriented material on the Internet where a child may find it, is too vague and tramples on the free-speech rights of adults.

1997
The U.S. Supreme Court finds in Boerne v. Flores that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is unconstitutional.

1998
The Child Online Protection Act (COPA), which attaches federal criminal liability to the online transmission for commercial purposes of material considered harmful to minors, is enacted by Congress. Challengers attack the law on First Amendment grounds, and a federal appeals court upholds a lower court injunction against enforcement of COPA in June of 1999.

1998
The U.S. Supreme Court rules in National Endowment for the Arts v. Finley that a federal statute requiring the NEA to consider general standards of decency before awarding grant monies to artists does not infringe on First Amendment rights.

1998
In Arkansas Educational Television Commission v. Forbes, the U.S. Supreme Court holds that a public television station may exclude a legally qualified candidate from participating in a station-sponsored debate if the station concludes that the excluded individual is not a politically viable candidate. The Court declares the station-sponsored debate to be a non-public forum, ruling that exclusion of the candidate for reasonable and viewpoint-neutral reasons is allowed.

1998
President Clinton revises his 1995 "Guidelines on Religious Expression in Public Schools" in an effort to promote public understanding of the fact that the First Amendment provides for religious expression by students simultaneously forbidding government-sponsored religion. The 1998 guidelines are mailed to every school superintendent in the country.

1999
The U.S. Supreme Court in Wilson v. Layne and Hanlon v. Berger rules unanimously that law enforcement officials violate privacy rights protected by the Fourth Amendment when they allow media on ride-alongs into a home when making an arrest or conducting a search. Though the consolidated cases more squarely address 4th Amendment issues, the newsgathering technique of "ride-along" is at the heart of the dispute.

1999
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit hears Food Lion v. Capital Cities/ABC Inc. in which the press is found liable for information gathered in an undercover investigation; Food Lion does not question the veracity of the information but rather the newsgathering methods used to obtain it. The 4th Circuit characterizes Food Lion's attempt to claim millions of dollars in punitive damages without proving the falsity of the news report as an unacceptable "end-run around First Amendment strictures" and reduces the damages awarded by the jury to a mere $2.

1999
President Clinton orders the Department of Education to mail guidelines on religious liberty to all public schools. The mass mailing emphasizes once again the administration's commitment to providing schools with guidance about the proper role of religion in the schools under current law.

2000
In Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that application of a public accommodation law to force the Boy Scouts to accept a gay scoutmaster is a violation of the private organization's freedom of association guaranteed by the First Amendment.

2000
The U.S. Supreme Court in Mitchell v. Helms finds that a federal program allowing states to lend educational material and equipment to both public and private schools does not violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

2000
In Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that a school district's policy permitting student-led, student-initiated prayer at football games violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

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