Laws and Proposed Laws, 1951-2007
The American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 provided that it would
protect First Amendment religious rights of Native Americans, a religious
The Anti-Dial-a-Porn Act of 1989 was overturned for a blanket prohibition
on indecent and obscene telephone recordings. Indecency is protected by the
The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (2002) regulated campaign finances and
electioneering communications. Such rules may be challenged if they limit
freedom of speech and press.
The Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act increased fines for violating
indecency standards. First Amendment advocates are concerned about the
act’s chilling effect on speech.
The FCC gained jurisdiction to regulate cable in 1984 with the passage of
the Cable Communications Policy Act. The act elicited several First
Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992 allowed
for more FCC regulation. The law brought about First Amendment cases
dealing with obscenity.
Child Online Protection Act of 1998 devised to prevent minors from
accessing obscene material on the Internet was found to be too broad in
limiting First Amendment rights.
The Supreme Court overturned the Child Pornography and Prevention Act in
Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition (2002) ruling it was too broad and
unconstitutional. The law made it a federal crime not only to send images
of real children engaged in explicit sexual activity but also
computer-generated images of the same.
Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act of 1988 criminalized the
transmission of child pornography via computers. Child pornography is not
protected by the First Amendment.
Congress passed the Child Protection Restoration and Penalties Enhancement
Act of 1990 (CPRPEA) to make it a crime knowingly to possess child
The Supreme Court upheld the Children’s Internet Protection Act which
requires schools and libraries to block children’s access to pornography or
Congress enacted the Communications Decency Act as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 in an attempt to prevent minors from gaining access to sexually explicit materials on the internet. It prohibited any individual from transmitting “obscene or indecent” messages to a recipient under 18 and outlawed the knowing display of “patently offensive” materials in a manner
Harmonizing copyright law with First Amendment principles, the Copyright
Act of 1976 incorporated the concept of fair use for the first time in such
The proposed Deleting Online Predators Act would require public schools and
libraries to block student access to social networks, raising questions
about First Amendment rights.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 introduced new prohibitions to
American copyright law. Critics say the law threatens First Amendment
The Dot Kids Implementation and Efficiency Act of 2002 attempts to protect
minors on the internet by creating a “safe haven” website without violating
the First Amendment.
Draft card burning became an iconic form of protest during the Vietnam War.
The Supreme Court rejected a First Amendment challenge to a law that
prohibited destroying the cards.
The Equal Access Act of 1984 forbids public schools from receiving funds if
they deny students the First Amendment right to hold meetings, including
The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 regulated the financing of
federal election campaigns. FECA faced several First Amendment challenges
after being amended in 1974.
Two acts were passed by Congress in 1968 and 1989 to protect the U.S. flag
from being burned by protesters. The Court struck both down on First
The Free Flow of Information Act would create a federal shield law to
protect reporters. Opponents of the law say the First Amendment does not
entitle press to special privileges.
The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act criminalizes blocking a
clinic entrance and interfering with women seeking abortions. Opponents say
it violates the First Amendment.
The Freedom of Information Act was adopted on the principle that government
should be transparent. Citizens can hold government accountable through
First Amendment freedoms
The Freedom to Display the American Flag Act prohibits association-governed
communities from preventing their members from displaying the American flag.
The Government in the Sunshine Act requires meetings of bodies that govern
federal agencies to be open unless they fall under 10 exceptions in the law.
The International Religious Freedom Act 1998 established an office to
oversee diplomatic missions to promote the First Amendment right of
religion around the world.
The Johnson Amendment was adopted in 1954, restricting tax-exempt churches
from participating in political campaigns or risk losing their tax-exempt
status. Some churches have complained the restriction inhibits their
Must-carry rules require cable systems to carry local broadcast television
stations. Some must-carry rules have violated the First Amendment while
others have not.
The National Do Not Call Registry lists phone numbers of those who do not
wish to get unsolicited telemarketing calls. The list has been upheld
against First Amendment challenges.
The Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970 allowed competing newspapers to
enter into a joint operating agreement in which they shared revenue but
kept separate editorial staffs.
The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996
responded to concerns that governmental aid to religious entities might
violate the First Amendment.
Congress passed the Protection of Children Against Sexual Exploitation Act
of 1977. Courts later upheld the law from First Amendment and other
The Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act of 1969 regulated the advertising
of tobacco products. Litigation over its effect on free speech rights
reached the Supreme Court in 1972.
The Radio Act of 1912 for the first time gave the government control over
the broadcast spectrum, leading to First Amendment quandaries in later
The Radio Act of 1927 created a commission to license broadcasters.
Underlying the act was the assumption that radio was expression protected
by the First Amendment.
Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 requiring
courts to apply strict scrutiny when examining whether a law violates
Amendment religious freedom.
The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act came after concern
about allowing state and local laws to prevail in the face of First
Amendment religious liberty claims.
The Religious Liberty and Charitable Donation Protection Act of 1998 was
passed to protect First Amendment free exercise of religion through
donating to religious organizations.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 significantly altered federal
communications policy. Parts of the Act have been struck down for violating
the First Amendment.
The Patriot Act, passed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, has been
criticized for incursions into Americans’ civil liberties and First
Amendment rights of association.
The Workplace Religious Freedom Act would mandate accommodation of
religious beliefs in the workplace. The legislation, introduced in 1999,
has not yet passed.