Name: Chaplinsky vs. New Hampshire, "Fighting Words"

Date:  1926 - 1950

Location:  North America


MediumPublic Speech

Artist: Chaplinsky

Confronting Bodies: State of New Hampshire

Date of Action: 1942

Specific Location: New Hampshire

Description of Artwork: Exchange of insults on the street. Chaplinsky called members of the government in Rochester, NH. "goddamned racketeers" and stated that the "whole government of Rochester are fascists or agents of fascists."

Description of Incident: "Under NH.'s Offensive Conduct law (chap. 378, para. 2 of the NH. Public Laws) it is illegal for anyone to address another person with 'any offensive, derisive or annoying word to anyone who is lawfully in any street or public place... or to call him by an offensive or derisive name.'" The court said that some categories of speech are simply "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 in morality."

Results of Incident: The case went to the Supreme Court which declared that the case did not fall under the category of "fighting words" and was not protected by the laws pertaining to free speech. The court further stated that "resort to epithets or personal abuse is not in any proper sense a communication of information or opinion safeguarded by the Constitution" and defined the word "offensive" in this context not in terms of what a particular addressee thinks... ("but... what men of common intelligence would understand would be words likely to cause an average addressee to fight.")

Source: The Encyclopedia of Censorship, J. Green, Facts on File, '93

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