Citation. 340 U.S. 315, 71 S. Ct. 303, 95 L. Ed. 295, 1951 U.S.
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Brief Fact Summary.
The Petitioner, Feiner (Petitioner), was convicted of disorderly conduct for refusing to stop giving a speech on a public sidewalk once the crowd started to get a little rowdy.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
When there is clear and present danger of a riot, then the police may restrict speech.
The Petitioner was addressing a group of 75 persons gathered on the sidewalk. The original purpose of the speech was to invite listeners to attend a meeting, but he also made derogatory marks towards some political officials. Later, a neighbor complained to the police and 2 units were dispatched to the scene. At that time people were spilling into the street and disrupting traffic. One officer asked the Petitioner to stop talking, but he refused several times and was eventually arrested.
Was the disruption of the speech to prevent a riot constitutional?
Yes. The conviction should not be reversed because there was great potential for a riot and the Petitioner defied the police request.
The facts do not show that a riot was imminent. This is just a convenient way for police to censor unpopular viewpoints.
A person does not have the right to free speech when it will result in a riot. The Petitioner intended to incite the public with his words. Therefore, the police had a legitimate interest in maintaining the peace and order of the community that outweighed the Petitioner’s freedom of speech.