First Amendment Protections

First Amendment Protections: A Brief Perspective

By Shaun E. Sundahl
Date: June 24, 2011

    The First Amendment protects our freedom of speech, press, religion, assembly and petition. Without the First Amendment protections, religious minorities can be prosecuted, the government can silence our voices when we seek to criticize them for purposes of improvement, and we could no longer gather in the masses to contemplate a plan of action against a suppressive government. In governments around the world, a lack of this fundamental right allows a dictatorship to flourish.  Although the First Amendment allows us latitude of freedom, the amendment does not allow us unrestricted freedom. Hudson (2002) mentions that in the aftermath of Connick v. Myers, a public employee must overcome two hurdles in order to claim a First Amendment violation.  First, the employee must show their speech addressed a matter of public concern. Second, does the free speech interest outweigh the employer’s efficiency interest (p.23)? Broadening freedom of speech, it appears the courts will allow others to give statements about public officials even defaming them, as long as the issue was a matter of public concern. The landmark case of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964) prohibited a public official from recovering damages for defamatory falsehood since the plaintiff was not able to prove the statement was made with actual malice. For the purposes of this case, the court defined actual malice as “knowledge that the defamatory statement was false or made with reckless disregard” for the truth.  


Hudson, D. L. (2002, December). Balancing Act: Public Employees and Free Speech. Retrieved June 4, 2011, from Vanderbilt University: First Amendment Center:


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