A municipal court in Rochester convicted Chaplinsky under a state statute banning offensive words to others in public. The Supreme Court of New Hampshire affirmed the conviction following a trial 'de novo' in the Superior Court. For WAPO and others raising issues about hate speech not being constitutionally protected, read “Chaplinsky v New Hampshire SCOTUS Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, U.S. , is a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court articulated the fighting words doctrine, a limitation of the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech.‎Background · ‎Opinion of the Court · ‎Subsequent case law.


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Appellant assails the statute as a violation of all three freedoms, speech, press and worship, but only an attack on the basis of free speech is warranted. The spoken, not the written, word is involved. And we cannot conceive that cursing a public officer is the exercise of religion in any sense of the term.

But even if the activities of the appellant which preceded the incident could be viewed as religious in character, and therefore entitled to the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment, they would not cloak him with immunity from the legal consequences for concomitant acts committed chaplinsky v new hampshire violation of a chaplinsky v new hampshire criminal statute.

Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire

We turn, therefore, to an examination of the statute itself. Allowing the chaplinsky v new hampshire scope to the language and purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment, it is well understood that the right of free speech is not absolute at all times and under all circumstances. The state statute here challenged comes to us authoritatively construed by the highest court of New Hampshire.

It has two provisions -- the first relates to words or names addressed to another in a public chaplinsky v new hampshire the second refers to noises and exclamations.

Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute

The two provisions are distinct. One may stand separately from the other. Assuming, without holding, that the second were unconstitutional, the first could stand if constitutional.

We accept that construction of severability and chaplinsky v new hampshire our consideration to the first provision of the statute. The word "offensive" is not to be defined in terms of what a particular addressee thinks.

The test is what men of common intelligence would understand would be words likely to cause an average addressee to fight. Chaplinsky admitted that he said the words charged in the chaplinsky v new hampshire, with the exception of the name of the deity.

For this, he was charged and convicted under a New Chaplinsky v new hampshire statute forbidding intentionally offensive speech directed at others in a public place.

Under New Hampshire's Offensive Conduct law chap. Public Laws it is illegal for anyone to address "any offensive, derisive or annoying word to anyone who is lawfully in any street or public place Alternate views[ edit ] Some modern legal historians have disputed the generally accepted version of events that led to Chaplinsky's arrest.

Chaplinsky stood on a busy Rochester street corner and distributed Jehovah's Witness literature.

People on the street were bothered, and especially angered when Chaplinsky called religion a 'racket'. A crowd gathered on the public sidewalk and a riot ensued. As a police officer was escorting Chaplinsky away from the scene, they encountered a city marshal.

While still on the street, Chaplinsky called the city marshal a 'damned racketeer' and a 'damned fascist'. Chaplinsky chaplinsky v new hampshire then arrested for breach of chaplinsky v new hampshire.

The New Hampshire law made it illegal to call another person an 'offensive' or 'derisive' word while in a public place. Chaplinsky was charged and convicted. On the way, they encountered Marshal Bowering, who had been advised that a riot was under way and was therefore hurrying to the scene.

Bowering repeated his earlier warning to Chaplinsky, who then addressed to Bowering the words set forth chaplinsky v new hampshire the complaint. Chaplinsky's version of the affair was slightly different.

He testified that, when he met Bowering, he asked him to arrest the ones responsible for the disturbance.


In reply, Bowering cursed him and told him to come along. Appellant admitted that he said the words charged in the complaint, with the exception of the name of the Deity.

Over appellant's objection, the trial court excluded, as immaterial, testimony relating to appellant's mission "to preach the true facts of the Bible," chaplinsky v new hampshire treatment at chaplinsky v new hampshire hands of the crowd, and the alleged neglect of duty on the part of the police.

This action was approved by the court below, which held that neither provocation nor the truth of the utterance would constitute a defense to the charge.