Laws and Proposed Laws Archives
The American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 provided that it would
protect First Amendment religious rights of Native Americans, a religious
Most anarchy statutes were passed in the early 1900s in response to the
growing visibility of anarchists. Attempts to stifle anarchy led to
restrictions on First Amendment rights.
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
Laws that protect individuals from discrimination based on race, sex,
ethnicity, age, religion, or sexual orientation often have First Amendment
Most anti-mask laws do not target specific groups. Instead, they typically
ban mask wearing that intimidates. Opponents of such laws invoke First
Amendment freedom of association.
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.
Blaine amendments—19th century amendments to state constitutions—aimed to
deny public funds for parochial schools and amplified the First Amendment’s
Blue sky laws refers to each state’s set of securities laws and
regulations. The Supreme Court said that states can regulate speech to
prevent securities fraud.
Breach-of-the-peace laws typically cover conduct that is disorderly and
disturbs the peace of a community. Most states have such laws criminalizing
certain speech and conduct.
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.
Critics of a California law cracking down on authentication of autographed
collectibles say it violates the First Amendment by limiting the spread of
Courts having ruled that college campus speech codes violate students’
First Amendment rights, but arguments that colleges have a legitimate
interest in such regulations continue.
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
35,000 signatures were presented to Congress in 1876 to add a Christian
Amendment to the Constitution to acknowledge the rulership of Jesus Christ.
The effort failed.
The Communications Act of 1934 regulated television and radio. Broadcasters
have public obligations, which serve as a limit on their First Amendment
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
The Comstock Act of 1873 made it illegal to send “obscene, lewd or
lascivious” publications through the mail or sell or possess an obscene
book, pamphlet or drawing.
There are concerns about conspiracy laws interfering with First Amendment
rights by allowing governments to crack down on those who disagree with the
positions of the state.
The first federal copyright law was passed in the First Congress in 1790
and predated the ratification of the First Amendment. Its purpose was to
Harmonizing copyright law with First Amendment principles, the Copyright
Act of 1976 incorporated the concept of fair use for the first time in such
Thousands of Americans were arrested under criminal syndicalism laws in the
late 1910s and early 1920s despite being in direct opposition to the First
Curfew laws have been challenged on First Amendment grounds, leading some
lower courts to overturn the laws unless they have exceptions for First
Enacted in 13th century England, the series of laws known as De Scandalis
Magnatum made it illegal knowingly to spread false rumors that cause public
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.
James Madison’s “Detached Memoranda,” written after his presidency, reveals
his increasing emphasis on First Amendment separation of church and state.
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.
States in 2022 and 2023 began introducing laws to restrict drag show
performances, raising questions about the First Amendment rights of free
Dress codes are typically set by schools and employers. Though dress codes
face First Amendment challenges by students and others, courts generally
support schools and employers.
Many Americans believe that the ability to speak English should be a
requirement of U.S. citizenship. English-only laws may violate the First
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 equal time rule requires broadcasters to treat political
candidates equally in terms of air time. Some see the rule as a violation
of First Amendment rights.
The Espionage Act of 1917, passed two months after the U.S. entered World
War I, criminalized the release of information that could hurt national
security and causing insubordination or disloyalty in the military. The law
was expanded in 1918 to criminalize dissent against the war effort, but
that portion of the law (the Sedition Act) was repealed.
The fairness doctrine attempted to ensure that broadcast coverage of
controversial issues was fair. Many journalists opposed the policy as a
violation of the First Amendment.
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.
Funeral protest laws have been passed in response to distasteful protests
at military funerals. Courts have generally upheld the laws against First
In the 1830s and 40s, Congress had a standing gag rule to table any
antislavery petition discussion. John Quincy Adams argued against this rule
and repealed it in 1844.
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.
Green River ordinances are local ordinances that prohibit individuals from
engaging in door-to-door solicitations unless the residents have given
Harmful to minors laws seek to protect minors from pornography, obscenity
and other material that may bring harm to them. Obscenity is not protected
by the First Amendment.
The Hatch Act of 1939, which limited the political participation and speech
of federal employees, has survived First Amendment free expression
Congress passed the Indian Appropriations Act to pay American Indian
education using religious schools to diffuse First Amendment controversy
over church-state conflict.
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
Licensing laws that restrict First Amendment rights must not be based on
the content of the speech and can only regulate the time, place and manner
of the speech.
Loitering laws can have a chilling effect on First Amendment freedoms of
speech and assembly and have been ruled as unconstitutional even after
being rewritten in some cases.
The constitutionality of loyalty oaths is part of the struggle between the
government’s regulation of threats to national security and the First
Amendment rights of citizens.
Before the First Amendment was adopted, Maryland passed the Toleration Act
of 1649, which was meant to ensure religious freedom for Christian settlers
of diverse persuasions.
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (2009)
does not penalize speech unless the speech is intended to incite hate
The McCarran Internal Security Act of 1950 required Communist organizations
to register with the government, posing a risk to First Amendment freedoms
of association and speech.
Congress adopted the Morrill Act for the Suppression of Polygamy in
response to a perceived threat posed by polygamy, practiced by the Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
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.
Some states as late as the 1940s prohibited musical desecration or
alteration of “The Star-Spangled Banner” national anthem. Such laws would
be considered unconstitutional today as a restriction of First Amendment
rights to free expression.
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 Northwest Ordinance primarily created the Northwest Territory in 1789
and presaged several provisions of the Constitution and the First Amendment.
The Old Deluder Satan Act of 1647, laid the basis for public schools in
America and also future First Amendment conflicts regarding religious acts
in public schools.
Open meetings laws guarantee access by the public to meetings of governing
bodies. All states adopted such laws by 1976. Access to government meetings
is not required by the Constitution or First Amendment but are compatible
with the concept of an informed citizenry.
Panhandling is a form of solicitation. When municipalities regulate
panhandling — a form of speech — First Amendment rights of the poor and
dispossessed become an issue.
The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996
responded to concerns that governmental aid to religious entities might
violate the First Amendment.
The Constitution framers were familiar with press licensing controls such
as England’s Printing Ordinance of 1643 when they decided to protect press
freedom in the First Amendment.
Presidential proclamations concerning holidays date back to colonial times,
when it was common for leaders to include requests for prayer and fasting.
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 Quebec Act of 1774, in which the British Parliament provided for
religious freedom to its Canadian province, was a progenitor of religious
freedoms in the First Amendment
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 application of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations law
(RICO) raises First Amendment questions implicating the freedom of
Some states have laws that allow adoption agencies to refuse adoption
services to same-sex couples, raising questions about First Amendment
The clash over the Sedition Act of 1798, designed to deal with threats in
the “quasi-war” with France, yielded the first sustained debate over the
meaning of the First Amendment.
The Sedition Act of 1918 curtailed the free-speech rights of U.S. citizens
during World War I. The law overstepped the bounds of First Amendment
Cases involving the First Amendment and seditious libel, statements
intended to provoke dissatisfaction with the government, arose during
several eras in American history.
The creation of a hostile, intimidating work environment through sexual
comments can constitute a type of sexual harassment that may implicate
First Amendment freedom of speech.
Although the Supreme Court hasn’t recognized a First Amendment privilege
for journalists to refuse to reveal their sources to a grand jury, most
states have enacted shield laws.
The Smith Act of 1940 has been upheld against First Amendment challenges.
The Act forbade any attempts to advocate for the violent destruction of the
Son of Sam laws prohibit criminals from profiting from media about their
crimes. The Supreme Court overturned New York’s Son of Sam law as violating
the First Amendment.
The speech and debate clause of the Constitution is more limited than the
First Amendment. Only legislative speech by Congress members is protected
from lawsuits under the clause.
The violent aftermath of the Stamp Act, which taxed on colonial papers and
official documents, influenced the Constitution framers to add safeguards
like the First Amendment.
A federal judge blocked Florida’s Stop W.O.K.E. Act saying that it violates
the First Amendment by limiting professors at state schools from expressing
certain viewpoints related to race, sex and country of origin when relevant
to the curriculum.
The Supreme Court ruled in 1961 that while Sunday blue laws may have
religious origins, they do not violate the First Amendment’s establishment
The Taft-Hartley Act addressed appropriate forms of symbolic speech, as
well as acceptable and unacceptable regulation of the right to association
granted in the First Amendment.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 significantly altered federal
communications policy. Parts of the Act have been struck down for violating
the First Amendment.
The Tillman Act of 1907, the first federal effort to regulate campaign
finance in U.S. elections, banned corporations from expending treasury
money to influence a federal election.
Trademarks are a form of intellectual property protection accorded to particular messages, slogans, brands, designs, or other types of expression. The primary federal trademark law, called the Lanham Act, defines a trademark as “any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination thereof” that a person uses “to identify and distinguish his or her goods
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 Wireless Ship Act of 1910 was the United States’ first effort to
regulate radio traffic, but the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 revealed
shortcomings in the law.
The Workplace Religious Freedom Act would mandate accommodation of
religious beliefs in the workplace. The legislation, introduced in 1999,
has not yet passed.
While land-use zoning generally does not raise First Amendment issues, a
government imposing controls to prevent certain businesses from operating
may violate free speech rights.