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FIRST AMENDMENT LAW DEFINITION

First Amendment law focuses on the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the laws, regulations, and legal claims that infringe or interfere with those rights.

The specific rights guaranteed by the First Amendment can be summarized in five general and often overlapping categories: (1) freedom of expression; (2) freedom of the press; (3) freedom of association and assembly; (4) freedom to petition; and (5) freedom of religion. Within these categories are specific areas of law that are part of a First Amendment law practice.

Freedom of expression. This category includes both laws that directly restrict and punish speech (e.g., obscenity and indecency, national security disclosures) and also laws that indirectly affect freedom of speech (e.g., copyright fair use, defamation and privacy law, restrictions on time, place, and manner of speech, and expressive conduct). It also includes laws relating to advertising and marketing activities under the commercial speech doctrine.

Freedom of the press. In addition to general freedom of expression issues, this category includes laws that affect the media and its ability to gather and report news ( e.g., access to public records, court proceedings, public meetings, and protection of the newsgathering process). It also includes government regulation of media (e.g., broadcast and cable) and other laws that interfere with the function of the media as an independent critic of government.

Freedoms of association and assembly. This category includes laws affecting the right to organize, the right to hold public demonstrations, and laws regulating the time, place, and manner of these activities (e.g., restrictions on use of public forums, and on membership and activities of dissident organizations.)

Freedom to petition. This category includes laws affecting the right of individuals and organizations to communicate with the government for the purpose of seeking redress of grievances. It often includes activities also protected by freedom of association and assembly.

Freedom of religion. This category includes laws that affect the right to practice one’s religion and laws that attempt to impose government-dictated religious principles on citizens (e.g., school prayer.)

First Amendment lawyers represent individuals and organizations whose First Amendment rights are threatened by application of these various laws.

Marshall Nelson, Partner

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