Free Speech Zone

Free Speech Zone

Free speech zones (also known as First Amendment Zones, Free speech cages, and Protest zones) are areas set aside in public places for political activists to exercise their right of free speech in the United States. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states that "Congress shall make no law... abridging... the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." The existence of free speech zones is based on U.S. court decisions stipulating that the government may regulate the time, place, and manner—but not content—of expression. A free speech zone is more restrictive than an exclusion zone.

The Supreme Court has developed a four-part analysis to evaluate the constitutionality of time, place and manner (TPM) restrictions. To pass muster under the First Amendment, TPM restrictions must be neutral with respect to content, narrowly drawn, serve a significant government interest, and leave open alternative channels of communication. Application of this four-part analysis varies with the circumstances of each case, and typically requires lower standards for the restriction of obscenity and fighting words.

Free speech zones have been used at a variety of political gatherings. The stated purpose of free speech zones is to protect the safety of those attending the political gathering, or for the safety of the protesters themselves. Critics, however, suggest that such zones are "Orwellian", and that authorities use them in a heavy-handed manner to censor protesters by putting them literally out of sight of the mass media, hence the public, as well as visiting dignitaries. Though authorities generally deny specifically targeting protesters, on a number of occasions, these denials have been contradicted by subsequent court testimony. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed, with various degrees of success and failure, a number of lawsuits on the issue.

The most prominent examples were those created by the United States Secret Service for President George W. Bush and other members of his administration. Free speech zones existed in limited forms prior to the Presidency of George W. Bush; it was during Bush's presidency that their scope has been greatly expanded.

Many colleges and universities earlier instituted free speech zone rules during the Vietnam-era protests of the 1960s and 1970s. In recent years, a number of them have revised or removed these restrictions following student protests and lawsuits.

Read more about Free Speech Zone:  History, Criticisms, Notable Incidents and Court Proceedings, On College and University Campuses, In Other Countries

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