First Amendment timeline
Significant historical events, court cases, and ideas that have
shaped our current system of constitutional First Amendment jurisprudence:
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
Rhode Island grants religious freedom.
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."
Connecticut passes first dissenter statute and allows "full
liberty of worship" to Anglicans and Baptists.
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.
The State of Virginia jails 50 Baptist worshipers for preaching
the Gospel contrary to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.
Eighteen Baptists are jailed in Massachusetts for refusing to
pay taxes that support the Congregational church.
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.
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
The Continental Congress adopts the final draft of the Declaration
of Independence on July 4.
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.
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."
On December 15, Virginia becomes the 11th state to
approve the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, the Bill
Andrew Jackson opposes the inclusion of the word "God"
in Tennessee's constitution.
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.
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.
The U.S. House of Representatives adopts gag rules preventing
discussion of antislavery proposals. The House repeals the rules
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.
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.
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.
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."
The 100th anniversary of the Bill of Rights.
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.
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."
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."
The Civil Liberties Bureau, a forerunner of the American Civil
Liberties Union (ACLU), is formed to oppose the Espionage Act.
Congress passes the Sedition Act, which forbids spoken or printed
criticism of the U.S. government, the Constitution or the flag.
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.
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.
Founding of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Congress repeals the Sedition Acts.
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.
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.
H.L. Mencken is arrested for distributing copies of American
Mercury. Censorship groups in Boston declare the periodical
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."
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.
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.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt pardons those convicted under
the Espionage and Sedition Acts.
California repeals its Red Flag Law, ruled unconstitutional in
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 ..."
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."
Life magazine is banned in the U.S. for publishing pictures
from the public health film The Birth of a Baby.
Georgia, Massachusetts and Connecticut finally ratify the Bill of
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.
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."
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.
Congress authorizes President Franklin D. Roosevelt to create
the Office of Censorship.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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."
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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."
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
In Texas. v. Johnson, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that
burning the American flag is a constitutionally protected form
of free speech.
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.
The Equal Access Act is found constitutional by the U.S. Supreme
Court in Board of Education of Westside Community Schools v.
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 ... "
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.
The bicentennial anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of
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.
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
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
Congress passes the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)
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.
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
The U.S. Supreme Court in 44 Liquormart, Inc. v. State of Rhode
Island, invalidates a state law forbidding all advertising
of liquor prices.
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.
The U.S. Supreme Court finds in Boerne v. Flores that the
Religious Freedom Restoration Act is unconstitutional.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.