First Amendment Stories of 2022

2022

Feel like 2022 went by in a blur? As the year draws to a close, we’re looking back at some of the biggest First Amendment stories of the past 12 months. These events and trends offered opportunities to explore and exercise our First Amendment freedoms.

Top 5 First Amendment Stories of 2022

 

Attacks on journalists

More than a dozen journalists have been killed while reporting on the war in Ukraine, with Russia’s crackdown on criticism and reporting during its invasion reminding us why freedoms of speech and the press matter.

Physical attacks on journalists have increased around the world, including in the U.S., where Las Vegas investigative journalist Jeff German was murdered in September. Police later arrested a public official that German had covered critically.

The First Amendment protects freedom of the press in the U.S. – even in troubling times – but most Americans say journalists deserve special legal protection from harm given the growing dangers of reporting.

Book banning

Library shelves got emptier this year as challenges to books in public schools and libraries grew.

While 57% of Americans say there is no good reason to remove books from public middle and high schools, a vocal minority has increasingly challenged books that include content about race, sexuality or gender identity, among other topics.

The Supreme Court has never ruled definitively on whether removing books from public schools violates students’ First Amendment rights. In a 40-year-old case, four justices sided with students seeking access to books their school board had removed, but four others disagreed.

Now, backed by students, some authors like Brad Meltzer and Carole Boston Weatherford have found new ways to get challenged books to kids.

| Watch: Book Banning and the First Amendment

Roe v. Wade overturned

The Supreme Court reversed a 50-year-old ruling protecting the right to abortion in news that broke when a draft ruling was leaked.

People reacted by speaking, assembling, voting and petitioning, mostly – but not completely – in First Amendment-protected ways. Following the ruling, many states sought to either enact laws to restrict abortion access or to protect it – including through ballot measures to amend state constitutions.

At the same time, religious groups explored what the ruling could mean for religious liberty in the future.

Court rules on religion in schools

Two Supreme Court rulings in 2022 shifted the balance toward freer practice of religion and away from separating church and state.

Prayer has long been OK in public schools as long as it’s private, not forced or led by the school. Now, because of a ruling protecting a public high school coach’s on-field prayer, the Supreme Court has strengthened protection for religious expression by teachers – maybe at the expense of students.

Private schools that include religious components in their curriculum also got a boost from the court. It ruled that states cannot exclude religious schools from tuition programs.

Elon Musk buys Twitter

The tech mogul’s purchase of the social media giant got people thinking about the rules on social media (like Twitter’s policies for blocking, banning or verifying accounts) and for social media (like whether the government can have more say in how social media companies moderate content).

These are questions the Supreme Court will be thinking about, too.

It is projected to hear a case about whether social platforms can be liable for content others post or that the platforms recommend.

And it will likely consider Florida and Texas laws that require social platforms to treat all viewpoints equally, limiting the companies’ ability to block or ban content.

Individuals have no First Amendment protection from actions by Twitter and other social media platforms because these platforms are run by private companies. Companies may moderate content as they choose. The First Amendment protects us only from government interference.

These First Amendment stories answered some looming questions and raised others that are sure to become big news in 2023.

Union City, Tenn., celebrates the First Amendment at Discovery Park of America

Fox News anchor Bret Baier spoke and country music legends The Gatlin Brothers performed.
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