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Chaplinsky v.

New Hampshire - Wikipedia 01/03/2018, 8)04 AM

Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire

Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568 (1942),[1] is a United States
Supreme Court case in which the Court articulated the fighting words
Chaplinsky v. New
doctrine, a limitation of the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of Hampshire

Background Supreme Court of the United
Alternate views States
Opinion of the Court Argued February 5, 1942
Subsequent case law Decided March 9, 1942
See also Full Chaplinsky v. State of
case New Hampshire
Further reading
Citations 315 U.S. 568 (https://sup
External links
68/case.html) (more)
62 S. Ct. 766; 86 L. Ed.
Background 1031; 1942 U.S. LEXIS
On 6 April 1940,[2] Walter Chaplinsky, a Jehovah's Witness, was using the Prior Appeal from the New
public sidewalk as a pulpit in downtown Rochester, passing out pamphlets history Hampshire Supreme
and calling organized religion a "reckket." After a large crowd had begun Court
blocking the roads and generally causing a scene, a police officer removed Holding
Chaplinsky to take him to police headquarters. Upon seeing the town marshal A criminal conviction for causing a
(who had returned to the scene after warning Chaplinsky earlier to keep it breach of the peace through the use
down and avoid causing a commotion), Chaplinsky attacked the marshal of "fighting words" does not violate
the Free Speech guarantee of the
verbally. He was then arrested. The complaint against Chaplinsky stated that
First Amendment.
he shouted: "You are a God-damned racketeer" and "a damned Fascist".
Court membership
Chaplinsky admitted that he said the words charged in the complaint, with
the exception of the name of the deity. Chief Justice
Harlan F. Stone
For this, he was charged and convicted under a New Hampshire statute Associate Justices
forbidding intentionally offensive speech directed at others in a public place. Owen J. Roberts · Hugo Black
Under New Hampshire's Offensive Conduct law (chap. 378, para. 2 of the Stanley F. Reed · Felix Frankfurter
William O. Douglas · Frank Murphy
James F. Byrnes · Robert H. Page 1 of 4
Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire - Wikipedia 01/03/2018, 8)04 AM

NH. Public Laws) it is illegal for anyone to address "any offensive, derisive or Jackson
annoying word to anyone who is lawfully in any street or public place ... or to
Case opinions
call him by an offensive or derisive name."
Majority Murphy, joined by
Chaplinsky appealed the fine he was assessed, claiming that the law was
"vague" and that it infringed upon his First Amendment and Fourteenth Laws applied
Amendment rights to free speech. U.S. Constitution amend. I; NH P. L.,
c. 378, § 2 (1941)

Alternate views
Some modern legal historians have disputed the generally accepted version of events that led to Chaplinsky's arrest.[3]

UCLA professor Gary Blasi's article on the topic describes the events thus: while preaching, Chaplinsky was surrounded
by men who mocked Jehovah's Witnesses' objections to saluting the flag. One man attempted to hit Chaplinsky in full
view of the town marshal, who warned Chaplinsky that he was in danger but did not arrest his assailant. After the marshal
left, another man produced a flagpole and attempted to impale Chaplinsky; while Chaplinsky was pinned against a car by
the pole, other members of the crowd struck him. A police officer arrived and, rather than dispersing the crowd, took
Chaplinsky into custody.

En route to the station, the officer, as well as members of the crowd, insulted Chaplinsky and his religion. Chaplinsky
responded by calling the town marshal, who had returned to assist the officer, a "damn fascist and a racketeer" and was
arrested for the use of offensive language in public.

Opinion of the Court

The Court, in a unanimous decision, upheld the arrest. Writing the decision for the Court, Justice Frank Murphy
advanced a "two-tier theory" of the First Amendment. Certain "well-defined and narrowly limited" categories of speech
fall outside the bounds of constitutional protection. Thus, "the lewd and obscene, the profane, the slanderous," and (in
this case) insulting or "fighting" words neither contributed to the expression of ideas nor possessed any "social value" in
the search for truth.[4]

Murphy wrote:

There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of
which have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene,
the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or "fighting" words those which by their very utterance inflict
injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. It has been well observed that such utterances are
no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any
benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.

Subsequent case law Page 2 of 4
Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire - Wikipedia 01/03/2018, 8)04 AM

Subsequent cases, in the Supreme Court, lower federal courts, and state courts have reached diverse conclusions on what
constitute fighting words that are outside the protection of the First Amendment. The cases have also varied on what
contexts - such as the reaction of hearers (public officials, police officers, ordinary citizens) - make a difference for the
limits on protected speech.[5] A particularly provocative example occurred in Cohen v. California (1971) in which an
individual was criminally charged for wearing, in a courthouse, a jacket on which was written "Fuck the Draft." The
Supreme Court held that the Chaplinsky doctrine did not control this case, and overturned the conviction. The Court's
opinion, by Justice John Marshall Harlan II, declared, "For while the particular four-letter word being litigated here is
perhaps more distasteful than most others of its genre, it is nevertheless often true that one man’s vulgarity is another’s

A legal scholar, writing in 2003 over 60 years after the Chaplinsky decision, has noted that lower courts "have reached
maddeningly inconsistent results" on what is and is not protected by the First Amendment in the area of fighting words.[5]

See also
List of United States Supreme Court cases, volume 315

1. Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568 ( (1942). This
article incorporates public domain material from this U.S government document.
2. "Americana: New Hampshire | CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts" (
cana-new-hampshire). Retrieved 2016-03-02.
3. Blasi, Vincent; Shiffrin, Seana (2009). "The Story of West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette: The Pledge of
Allegiance and the Freedom of Thought" (
est_virginia-v-barnette.pdf) (PDF). In Dorf, Michael C. Constitutional Law Stories (2nd ed.). Foundation Press.
pp. 409–53 [433]. ISBN 978-1-59941-169-9.
4. See Sullivan, Harold J. (2005). Civil Rights and Liberties: Provocative Questions and Evolving Answers. 2nd ed. N.J.:
Prentice Hall, 2005 at 24.
5. Hudson, Jr., David L. "Fighting Words" ( First Amendment
Center. Vanderbilt University and the Newseum. Retrieved 24 August 2017.

Further reading
Herbeck, Dale (2003), "Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire", in Parker, Richard A., Free Speech on Trial: Communication
Perspectives on Landmark Supreme Court Decisions, Tuscaloosa, Alabama: University of Alabama Press, pp. 85–
99, ISBN 0-8173-1301-X.
Caine, Burton (2004). "The Trouble with 'Fighting Words': Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire Is a Threat to First
Amendment Values and Should be Overruled" ( Marquette
Law Review. 88 (3).
Peters, Shawn Francis (1999). "Re-hearing 'Fighting Words': Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire in Retrospect". Journal of
Supreme Court History. 24 (3): 282–97. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5818.1999.tb00168.x (
Sumner, L.W. (2005), "Hate crimes, literature, and speech", in Frey, R.G.; Heath Wellman, Christopher, A companion Page 3 of 4
Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire - Wikipedia 01/03/2018, 8)04 AM

to applied ethics, Blackwell Companions to Philosophy, Oxford, UK Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing,
pp. 89–101, doi:10.1002/9780470996621.ch11 (,
ISBN 9781405133456.

External links
Text of Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568 (1942) is available from: Cornell (
premecourt/text/315/568) CourtListener (
) Findlaw ( Justia (http://supr Oyez ( OpenJurist (https:// Google Scholar (
"First Amendment Library entry on Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire" ( Archived from the original (http://www. on 2008-07-25.

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