The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees Americans’ freedom of expression. But that doesn’t mean the government or citizens approve of hateful or offensive speech.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has vowed to uphold that standard in the wake of the August 12 racial violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one woman dead. She died after a car plowed into a group of protesters who’d gathered to oppose a rally by white nationalists and other extremist groups. Two police officers observing the rally in a helicopter died when the helicopter crashed.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence. It has no place in America.”
— President Trump
“The violence and deaths in Charlottesville strike at the heart of American law and justice,” Sessions said. “When such actions arise from racial bigotry and hatred, they betray our core values and cannot be tolerated.”
Despite the First Amendment, courts do not protect all speech. The test is whether the speech can reasonably be expected to lead to violence or other lawless action. Basically, the courts have ruled that if someone makes a direct threat against another person or incites a group to commit imminent violence, the speech is not protected and the government can intervene.
In response to the violent attack in Charlottesville, Sessions said: “You can be sure we will charge and advance the investigation toward the most serious charges that can be brought, because this is an unequivocally unacceptable and evil attack that cannot be accepted in America.”