Fighting Words and Free Speech
Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire (1942) established that fighting words are not
protected by the First Amendment. The Court has since narrowed the fighting
City of Houston v. Hill (1987) found that a Houston ordinance prohibiting
verbal abuse of police officers to a criminalization of First Amendment
In Cohen v. California (1971) established that criminalizing the display of
profane words in public places — in this case on a jacket —violates the
Gooding v. Wilson (1972) limited the scope of the “fighting words”
exception to the First Amendment and enhanced the development of the
In Karlan v. City of Cincinnati (1974), the Court was asked to decide
whether a city ordinance prohibiting words uttered in an “insulting” manner
violated the Constitution.
Lewis v. City of New Orleans (1974) overturned a conviction for cursing at
police, saying the state law was overly broad and thus violated the First
Lucas v. Arkansas (1974) vacated convictions for making derogatory remarks
against the police since an earlier case said that such ordinances violated
the First Amendment.
In R.A.V. v. St. Paul (1992), the Court, citing violation of the First
Amendment, overturned a rule that made it a crime to use a burning cross to
In Rosenfeld v. New Jersey (1972), which involved profanity and the First
Amendment, the Court vacated the conviction of a man who used profane
language at a school board meeting.
The U.S. Supreme Court case, Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, arose when a college
prevented a student from distributing religious literature. The court said
the case could continue even though the student only wanted nominal damages.