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What the First Amendment protects - and what it doesn't

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Over the last couple of years, people have again found their voices and taken to the streets to protest...what exactly does the First Amendment protect and permit?

Over the last couple of years, people have again found their voices and taken to the streets to protest through organizations like Black Lives Matter, the Women’s March, protest groups appearing at political campaigns and rallies, and impromptu protests against controversial speakers on college campuses.  Most recently, arising out of the mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, teens across Florida and the country have found their voices to crusade for reasonable gun control, forming the March for Our Lives movement.  


Our law firm has been integrally involved in representing media seeking public records that might shed light on the government’s response after Nikolas Cruz opened fire at the school, so the March for Our Lives movement hits close to home. 

But protests, boycotts, and public speaking have long been part of the free speech landscape in the US.  What exactly does the First Amendment protect and permit? The free speech, freedom of the press, right to peaceably assemble, free exercise of religion and establishment clauses all reside within the First Amendment.  And some of the strongest free speech cases arise out of speech and activities many find offensive – flag burning, KKK marches, profanity in a courtroom. 

USA Today’s article What the First Amendment Protects and What It Doesn't is a timely, practical look at First Amendment topics ranging from censorship to public protests to compelled speech to free exercise of religion.  You might want to take a look before you head out to your next march.    

Carol LoCicero is a founding partner of Thomas & LoCicero.  She is a nationally-recognized media lawyer routinely sought after as a speaker on media issues at national and statewide conferences. She practices at the trial and appellate levels, handling litigation concerning defamation and privacy, public records, open meetings, reporter subpoenas, court access and technology in the courtroom.