First Amendment

Civil Rights Attorneys Representing Residents of Atlanta

The First Amendment preserves rights to freedom of religion and freedom of speech for Americans. It provides that Congress should not enact a law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press. Free speech and religious freedom are rights that can be enforced against the government but not against your employer, a private organization, or a private company. There are other laws that work in tandem with the First Amendment, however, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. If you believe that your free speech rights may have been infringed, you should consult an experienced Atlanta First Amendment lawyer at Parks, Chesin & Walbert.

Religious Freedom

Under the First Amendment, the government may not prevent you from exercising your religious beliefs, and it cannot establish its own religion. The government is also not allowed to coerce you, as a citizen, to support or participate in any religion or its exercise. However, what coercion means depends on the context. For example, it was held in one Supreme Court case that prayers provided to begin town meetings from various religious organizations around a town did not violate the First Amendment.

Moreover, the federal, state, and local governments are not allowed to stop people from gathering for the purposes of prayer or other religious practices, even when those happen on public property. Generally, as long as the government does not officially sponsor a religious practice or proselytize for a specific religion, a court will not find that it has established a religion under the First Amendment. Thus, for example, it has been found that “in God we trust” on United States coins does not constitute an establishment of religion because it is general and does not try to establish a particular religion. However, a First Amendment attorney in Atlanta can guide you through the nuances of religious freedom in more detail.

Freedom of Speech

The First Amendment protects speech relating to matters of public concern. These can include criticism of public officials or policies and petitions to the government. When a newspaper publishes an article critical of the government or a government official, the right being exercised is freedom of speech under the First Amendment, and this expression has the highest degree of protection under the law. The only situation in which the government can restrict this speech is when there is a compelling interest, such as protecting classified secrets. The protection is less stringent for government employees and students. Employees should not be subject to retaliation if the speech in question is in performance of a regular job duty. Students can also be restricted for the purpose of conformity within a school setting.

Generally, content-based laws that target speech based on the content of what it communicates are presumptively unconstitutional, and they can be justified only if the government is able to show that they are narrowly fashioned to serve a compelling governmental interest. As our Atlanta First Amendment attorneys can explain, this is a challenging standard for the government to meet. Most First Amendment legal claims need to present an expression of constitutionally protected speech, an adverse act taken against the exercise of free speech (such as an arrest or a refusal to provide benefits), and a causal relationship between the speech and the adverse act.

There are certain kinds of speech that are not protected. These include child pornography, perjury, defamation, fighting words, incitement to imminent illegal actions, obscenity, blackmail, real threats, a solicitation to perpetrate a crime, and plagiarism of copyrighted material. However, “speech” is construed broadly. Even political apparel can be considered protected speech. For example, under certain state laws, voters cannot wear political badges, political buttons, or other clothing that bears political insignias inside a polling place on Election Day, but the law needs to be reasonably tailored and articulate sensible grounds for distinguishing which apparel can be worn inside the polling place.

Consult a Skillful First Amendment Lawyer in Atlanta

First Amendment issues can be challenging, but these constitutional rights are critically important. Whether you are looking for advice or representation in a constitutional claim, call us and let one of our skillful civil rights attorneys look at your case. We represent clients in Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, DeKalb, and Glynn Counties. Call us at 404-873-8048 or complete our online form.

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