Brief Fact Summary. Chaplinsky was convicted under a State statute for calling a City Marshal a “God damned racketeer” and a “damned fascist” in a public place.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. “Fighting words” are not entitled to protection under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution)
Issue. Did the statute or the application of the statute to Chaplinsky’s comments violate his free speech rights under the First Amendment of the Constitution?
Held. No. The lower court is affirmed.
Considering the purpose of the First Amendment of the Constitution, it is obvious that the right to free speech is not absolute under all circumstances. There are some narrowly defined classes of speech that have never been protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. These include “fighting words,” words that inflict injury or tend to excite an immediate breach of the peace. Such words are of such little expositional or social value that any benefit they might produce is far outweighed by their costs on social interests in order and morality.
The statute at issue is narrowly drawn to define and punish specific conduct lying within the domain of government power. Moreover, the Supreme Court of New Hampshire, which is the ultimate arbiter of the meanings of New Hampshire law, has defined the Statute as applying only to “fighting words”. Therefore, the Statute does not unconstitutionally impinge upon the right of free speech.
Derisive and annoying words can be taken as coming within the purview of the statute only when they have this characteristic of plainly tending to excite the addressee to a breach of the peace.View Full Point of Law