History of the First Amendment

Timeline created by Andrew_M
  • Reynolds v. United States

    Reynolds v. United States
    George Reynolds was a Mormon man charged for violating laws against bigamy, because he married a woman while still married to a different woman. At the time, the Mormon Church allowed for its male members to practice polygamy. Reynolds and the Church believed that anti-bigamy laws were an attempt to prevent Mormons from freely exercising their religion. The Supreme Court ruled against Reynolds, stating that the First Amendment does not protect the right to engage in any religious activity.
  • Grosjean v. American Press Co.

    Grosjean v. American Press Co.
    In Louisiana, Governor Huey Long was facing harsh criticism from larger urban newspapers. In an effort to suppress this criticism, Long implemented a 2% gross receipts tax (tax on the seller of goods) that applied to all newspapers with circulations of more than 20,000 per week. 13 newspaper companies affected by the tax sued the Governor's administration. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the newspaper companies, finding that taxation in attempt to suppress free speech was unconstitutional.
  • Yates v. United States

    Yates v. United States
    The Smith Act was a federal statue that made it illegal to advocate for the forceful destruction or overthrow of the American government. In California, fourteen officials of the Communist Party USA were charged with violating this act simply for being members of the Communist Party. They argued that their activities were peaceful and passive, and therefore not in violation of the Smith Act. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the CPUSA officials, as they presented no "clear and present danger."
  • McGowan v. Maryland

    McGowan v. Maryland
    Blue laws are laws that restrict or prohibit certain activities on Sundays to promote people taking a day of rest or worship. In Maryland, a store was issued a fine for violating a local blue law by selling products on a Sunday. The store chose to challenge the state of Maryland for its enforcement of blue laws. The Supreme Court ruled against the shop, deciding that even though blue laws have religious origins, there are also plenty of valid secular reasons for them to exist.
  • Cohen v. California

    Cohen v. California
    A 19-year-old named Paul Robert Cohen was at a Los Angeles Courthouse to testify as a witness, and he was wearing a jacket with the phrase "Fuck the Draft" on it. When Cohen left the courtroom, a police officer who had spotted the jacket arrested him on a charge of disturbing the peace. Cohen claimed that he wore the jacket in protest of the Vietnam War. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Cohen, holding that the word "fuck" does not fall into the category of unprotected speech.
  • Lynch v. Donnelly

    Lynch v. Donnelly
    Every year during Christmastime, the city government of Pawtucket, Rhode Island set up a public decorative Christmas display. The display included items such as a Christmas tree, Santa Claus house, holiday banner, and a nativity scene. The city was sued for its display of the nativity scene, as it was a specific reference to the Christian religion. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the city, stating that the display had "legitimate secular purposes" and did not violate the First Amendment.
  • Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah

    Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah
    In Santería, an Afro-Cuban religion, part of the practice involves ritual animal sacrifice. In the city of Hialeah, Florida, the Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye was formed as a place for people to practice Santería. In an effort to criminalize Santería, the Hialeah city council put forth a law that banned ritual animal sacrifice. The Church sued the city. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Church, finding that Hialeah's law prevented Church members from freely exercising their religion.
  • Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition

    Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition
    The Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 expanded the legal definition of child pornography to include any visual depiction of minors engaged in sexual activity. This meant that so-called "virtual child pornography" created without the involvement of any actual children was illegal. The Free Speech Coalition filed a lawsuit to prevent enforcement of the law in California. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the FSC, stating that virtual child pornography records no crime and has no victims.
  • Guiles v. Marineau

    Guiles v. Marineau
    Zachary Guiles, a high school student in Vermont, wore a t-shirt to school that depicted cocaine, alcohol, and offensive images of President Bush. The text on the shirt insulted Bush and alleged that he was a cocaine addict. A school employee ordered Guiles to cover up the imagery of drugs and alcohol, or wear a different shirt. He refused and was suspended. He later sued the school administrators. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Guiles, holding that the shirt was protected political speech.
  • Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans

    Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans
    In Texas, the Sons of Confederate Veterans tried to have the state issue a specialty license plate that featured imagery of the Confederate flag. The organization sued after their request was denied, seeing it as an infringement upon their First Amendment right to free speech. The Supreme Court ruled against the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and it held that allowing such a license plate would constitute government endorsement of its message, but denying it was in no way unconstitutional.