Explain the guarantees provided under the First Amendment. What are the major exceptions to the First Amendment’s guarantees of free speech and press?
Perhaps the most notable, and well-known protection of the fifth amendment is the freedom from self-incrimination. This means that no person, when on trial “shall be compelled… to be a witness against himself.” When we commonly hear that a person pleas the fifth, this means that he or she is exercising the right not to give any information that could possibly incriminate that individual. Most importantly, it is understood that through the Constitution that a person’s silence or seeming lack of cooperation is indicative of their guilt.
The first amendment is understood to be the most elemental to the way that America has developed as a democracy. The first amendment grants the freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly, and petition of the government. While these are nearly absolute, there are notable exceptions to the way that speech and freedom of the press are limited in certain scenarios. While an important aspect of protecting speech and the right to press is seen through prior restraint laws (laws ensuring that no material is censored before its release to the public in order to limit any sort of expression), there are issues that have historically been at odds with what is understood to be free speech in the United States. Sedition and slander, falling under the notion of speech, as well as libel, falling under the notion of press, are three unprotected forms of expression through the First Amendment. Sedition has had a difficult relationship with the American government throughout its history in 1798, and then two more times in the 20th century during each World War. These restrictions on speech through sedition were eventually repealed or ultimately overturned, as the WWII era, Smith Act was in Dennis v. United States (1951).