General Question

Afos22's avatar

Should inciting a riot be covered under the first amendment?

Asked by Afos22 (3552 points ) August 18th, 2011

That is, should inciting a riot, or even conspiring, be covered under the first amendment to the constitution in the USA. That is, is it covered under the right to free speech? Should it be? Why/why not? And what about other countries?

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19 Answers

WestRiverrat's avatar

No, the first amendment covers peaceful assembly. There is nothing peaceful about a riot.

Blackberry's avatar

You have to look at the word incite. This can be twisted multiple ways. The constitution has to be interpreted for things like this and it’s not black and white. It would depend on a case by case basis. How was the riot incited? Was it really trying to incite a riot? Or advocate aggressive protest?

Edit: Either way, Westriver is right, the word riot is bad lol.

Afos22's avatar

My question is based on the several people who have been arrested in England for conspiring/inciting a riot via social media. Even if/when the riots did not occur that they were talking about. Also, a person was arrested in Scotland for talking about a riot on a social media website.

Nullo's avatar

IIRC your freedom of speech (in the U.S.) is protected until you start trying to incite violence or otherwise cause harm with it. Yelling “Fire!” in a theater is not protected, nor is telling people to go and riot. Now, if they take your words to heart and go riot on their own… that’s another matter. Might get to the Supreme Court, who knows.

RareDenver's avatar

@WestRiverrat makes the point very well, if I imagine two fictitious posts I could make about gathering in City Square in Leeds

1. “I ask you all to come to City Square at 8pm to protest the ‘XYZ latest injustice’ show solidarity people please”

and

2. “Let’s hit up City Square at 8pm feds will be busy round then at Briggate and loads of free stuff to be had, lets burn the fucking place down, come get it! oh yeah something to do with ‘XYZ latest injustice’”

josie's avatar

Only Justices Black and Wm. O. Douglas argued that the civil liberty protected by the First Ammendment was absolute.
The Supreme Court, for better or for worse has gradually tightened up the absolute liberty of speech more than once.
Inciting to riot would be speech to cause imminent and lawless action, which is not protected.
Find another defense.

marinelife's avatar

No, certainly not. You have the right to say anything but not to cause others to take action that could harm society.

boffin's avatar

Free speech does not include the right to stand up in a crowded theater and yell FIRE…
Nor should it…

Nullo's avatar

I mentioned this post to a friend. His half-kidding response was that riot and revolt were covered under the second amendment, not the first.

zenvelo's avatar

As said above, speech to deliberately incite violence or a riot is not protected. Speech to gather for peaceful assembly is protected. In between is what we are dealing with in the Bay Area regarding the BART Police shutting down cell phone access. The police argue it is to prevent more disruptive unlawful behavior by using phones to encourage others. The protesters argue it is a violation of their 1st amendment right to ask people to join the protest.

In discussing this issue, remember Great Britain does not recognize a right to freedom of speech, and has a long history of laws that greatly restrict speech.

Pandora's avatar

Why would a peaceful protest not be enough? Why would a riot be necessary? Peaceful protests tend to get more possitive reactions in the long run. If you protest peacefully, people are more prone to listen. Riots only lead to a lot of finger pointing and the bad side gets sympathy because they can be made to look like the underdog.
Freedom of speech is meant for civilized speech.
The moment a person starts to lose their civil behavior and act no better than an ape than they should be tasered like a wild animal out of control.
Last I check, it doesn’t protect ape speech or riots, and we kill rabid animals.

Nullo's avatar

@Pandora There are, sadly, times when peaceful protests are simply ignored. I cite the Obamacare thing; most of the country – left and right – had some beef or other with the legislation, and they force-passed it anyway. A lot of the protesters were written off as “tea-baggers,” and their opinions subsequently disregarded.

Violence is, I think, a natural (though perhaps not entirely healthy or useful or necessarily appropriate) follow-up to such glaring disrespect.

Afos22's avatar

I’m not talking about peaceful vs non peaceful assembly. I’m not talking about yelling “fire”. I’m not talking about the riot itself. I’m not talking about the BART thing. Should lawful action be take against words themselves? Like, talking (on the internet or not), about rioting.

poisonedantidote's avatar

First amendment to one side for a moment…

You should be able to say anything you like as a member of the public. You should be able to yell fire all you like, and call for riots and whatever you like. If you tell someone to jump off a cliff and they do more fool them. I yell fire, and you trample someone to death in a panic without seeing flames or smelling smoke, and somehow I’m to blame?

If we allow strangers (the government) to tell us what we can and cant say, in any situation at all, it makes it nice and convenient for any would be dictator who wants to silence people.

I for one will say anything I please, and if I feel inciting a riot is necessary I will do so. Try to stop me inciting a riot and ill try to incite revolution instead, your choice.

Afos22's avatar

@poisonedantidote I fucking love you. I agree with you 100%.

josie's avatar

@poisonedantidote Which is pretty much how Black and Douglas saw it. It was their (and others) position that the purpose of the Bill of Rights was to keep the government off the people’s back, and not how to figure out new ways of enslaving them.
Your point is a good one. Not popular, of course, but a good one none the less.

PhiNotPi's avatar

The first amendment allows any citizen to speak out against the government. It does not give you permission to speak out and say whatever you want, whenever you want, wherever you want, about whoever you want. It allows me to say “Government leader X is doing a terrible job.” It does not allow me to shout “Fire” in a theater or publicize tons of defamatory lies about a person. It wasn’t even meant to allow this. The bill of rights is all about a person’s rights against the government. In my opinion, the US has the best freedom of speech in the entire world. I can name dozens of countries that could inprison you if you criticize the government. It is important to note that the first amendment only applies in the US, not any other country, even the UK.

CWOTUS's avatar

There is no absolute right to free speech, nor should there be. An absolute right to free speech would invalidate laws against fraud, sexual harassment, libel and slander, for example. Currently there is another exception for “fighting words”; if you provoke a fight by your use of words – and the perceived intent behind them to provoke the fight – then that is not “protected speech”. Obscenity is another exception.

“Inciting to riot” (or to encourage suicide, murder and other criminal acts) should in no way be protected. “A discussion about whether or not to overthrow the government”, on the other hand, is exactly the kind of speech that is and should be protected under the First Amendment (to the US Constitution). (And this protection has often been abrogated in our past, unfortunately.)

rOs's avatar

@poisonedantidote I don’t know if I’m prepared to confess my unabashed love, but I’m definitely “in-like” with you after that statement.

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