We know you probably learned about the First Amendment in elementary school. But it seems like there’s a lot of fighting in our culture over what kinds of speech it actually protects. Believe it or not, there are some limits. Let’s see what the Founders themselves thought.

We’ve got the first amendment all twisted

These days, people like to throw around the First Amendment as a defense for hate speech and cruelty. Wanna stir up social trouble with concerning, hateful, or controversial remarks? Free speech, baby.

In reality, a legal defense of bad behavior isn’t what the Founding Fathers intended at all.

Wikimedia Commons

When “free speech” was first outlined, it wasn’t an excuse for anyone to say whatever they wanted. Instead, it was a way for people to speak out on politics and society in a respectful, opinionated way without getting crucified by the people in power. Sounds pretty sweet for the citizens, right? Unfortunately, most people these days don’t quite know the ins-and-outs of what the First Amendment actually protects.

So, this is what ‘free speech’ does cover

So what are the true perks of the first amendment? Well, firstly, protest. Which is awesome in and of itself. You can also cuss your little heart out at nearly any event you’re at. If it’s a public setting, feel free to let them rip. Another benefit for the common good? Boycotting. You can use your voice to try and get everyone to stop buying a product or endorsing an actress, and no one can stop you.

Brit Worgan

Non-violent hate speech is protected by the Constitution, as are non-verbal hate symbols. This means that anyone can express opinions which might be unsettling or inhumane without repercussions. Now here’s where the Amendment is limited…

And this is what it does not protect

Once any awful speech turns to threats of violence, it is no longer protected by the First Amendment. Also, any speech that includes sex with a minor is a no-go, and they’ll get charged with child pornography in a second.

Photo by Getty

The First Amendment also comes down on things like perjury, slander, and libel. Sometimes, you can take being a liar a little too far for the law to tolerate. Threat-littered blackmail is also off-limits. In addition, “fighting words” are not protected. So, remember: keep it civil, non-violent, and don’t be a jerk!