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Here’s an interesting First Amendment question for you: can you force someone to listen to your message? We know the First Amendment protects your right to speak, but does it give you the right to be heard? The answer: no.
For many years now, so-called “free speech zones” have been established during such diverse events as the Super Bowl, political conventions, Olympic games and other high-profile occasions. Protests and demonstrations are limited to these areas. The idea is to make sure alternative points of view are presented, but at the same time, not disrupt those who are participating in the scheduled events.
Of course, the “free speech zones” are usually out of sight and sound of event participants, so those who want to speak can’t get their message to their intended targets. So as you might expect, the demonstrators claim their First Amendment rights are being violated.
So, the question is, should I be forced to listen to message with which I disagree?
For years courts have supported something called “reasonable time, place and manner” restrictions on speech. Basically the law says there are times when speech is inappropriate. There are places where free speech is not allowed. There are ways of delivering a message that do not have Constitutional protection.
But the restrictions also have to be neutral. That is, you can’t ban one particular message in favor of another. In other words, government officials can’t ban speech simply because they don’t like the speaker or disagree with the message.
It’s important to note here that when the government establishes a free speech zone it has not banned this speech or that speech. Officials have, however, placed restrictions on where the speech can take place. So the speech is, in fact, available to anyone who wants to listen.
Actually, I think there is more a security issue here rather than free speech. If protestors could guarantee civility, there would be no need for free speech zones. But of course, civility, when it comes to speech, is in short supply there days.
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