Freedom of Speech: Finding the Limits

Summary

Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech . . .

First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution

As part of the Bill of Rights, freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Constitution, but it is not defined by it. That task is left up to the people through a representative government that makes the laws and a judicial system that interprets and applies the laws to resolve disputes. When people bring their First Amendment challenges into the court system and decisions are made, principles get established that help define the boundaries of free speech for everyone.

While most Americans believe there should be some limits to free expression, there is much disagreement about what constitutes speech and where those limits should be. Consequently, freedom of speech ends up being our most contested right.

In this lesson, based on the Annenberg Classroom video “A Conversation on the Constitution: Freedom of Speech,” students gain insight into the many challenges involved in defining and protecting free speech. They also learn about principles that come from Supreme Court decisions and case law that are applied to define the limits for us today.

The estimated time for this lesson plan is three to four days.

Download the lesson plan