Chaplinsky v. State of New Hampshire, No. 255

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtMURPHY
Citation62 S.Ct. 766,315 U.S. 568,86 L.Ed. 1031
Decision Date09 March 1942
Docket NumberNo. 255
PartiesCHAPLINSKY v. STATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE

315 U.S. 568
62 S.Ct. 766
86 L.Ed. 1031
CHAPLINSKY

v.

STATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE.

No. 255.
Argued Feb. 5, 1942.
Decided March 9, 1942.

Mr. Hayden C. Covington, of Brooklyn, N.Y., for appellant.

Mr. Frank R. Kenison, of Conway, N.H., for appellee.

Page 569

Mr. Justice MURPHY delivered the opinion of the Court.

Appellant, a member of the sect known as Jehovah's Witnesses, was convicted in the municipal court of Rochester, New Hampshire, for violation of Chapter 378, Section 2, of the Public Laws of New Hampshire: 'No person shall address any offensive, derisive or annoying word to any other person who is lawfully in any street or other public place, nor call him by any offensive or derisive name, nor make any noise or exclamation in his presence and hearing with intent to deride, offend or annoy him, or to prevent him from pursuing his lawful business or occupation.'

The complaint charged that appellant 'with force and arms, in a certain public place in said city of Rochester, to wit, on the public sidewalk on the easterly side of Wakefield Street, near unto the entrance of the City Hall, did unlawfully repeat, the words following, addressed to the complainant, that is to say, 'You are a God damned racketeer' and 'a damned Fascist and the whole government of Rochester are Fascists or agents of Fascists' the same being offensive, derisive and annoying words and names'.

Upon appeal there was a trial de novo of appellant before a jury in the Superior Court. He was found guilty and the judgment of conviction was affirmed by the Supreme Court of the State. 91 N.H. 310, 18 A.2d 754.

By motions and exceptions, appellant raised the questions that the statute was invalid under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States in that it placed an unreasonable restraint on freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of worship, and because it was vague and indefinite. These contentions were overruled and the case comes here on appeal.

There is no substantial dispute over the facts. Chaplinsky was distributing the literature of his sect on the streets

Page 570

of Rochester on a busy Saturday afternoon. Members of the local citizenry complained to the City Marshal, Bowering, that Chaplinsky was denouncing all religion as a 'racket'. Bowering told them that Chaplinsky was lawfully engaged, and then warned Chaplinsky that the crowd was getting restless. Some time later a disturbance occurred and the traffic officer on duty at the busy intersection started with Chaplinsky for the police station, but did not inform him that he was under arrest or that he was going to be arrested. On the way they encountered Marshal Bowering who had been advised that a riot was under way and was therefore hurrying to the scene. Bowering repeated his earlier warning to Chaplinsky who then addressed to Bowering the words set forth in the complaint.

Chaplinsky's version of the affair was slightly different. He testified that when he met Bowering, he asked him to arrest the ones responsible for the disturbance. In reply Bowering cursed him and told him to come along. Appellant admitted that he said the words charged in the complaint with the exception of the name of the Deity.

Over appellant's objection the trial court excluded as immaterial testimony relating to appellant's mission 'to preach the true facts of the Bible', his treatment at the hands of the crowd, and the alleged neglect of duty on the part of the police. This action was approved by the court below which held that neither provocation nor the truth of the utterance would constitute a defense to the charge.

It is now clear that 'Freedom of speech and freedom of the press, which are protected by the First Amendment from infringement by Congress, are among the fundamental personal rights and liberties which are protected by the Fourteenth Amendment from invasion by state

Page 571

action'. Lovell v. City of Griffin, 303 U.S. 444, 450, 58 S.Ct. 666, 668, 82 L.Ed. 949.1 Freedom of worship is similarly sheltered. Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 303, 60 S.Ct. 900, 903, 84 L.Ed. 1213, 128 A.L.R. 1352.

Appellant assails the statute as a violation of all three freedoms, speech, press and worship, but only an attack on the basis of free speech is warranted. The spoken, not the written, word is involved. And we cannot conceive that cursing a public officer is the exercise of religion in any sense of the term. But even if the activities of the appellant which preceded the incident could be viewed as religious in character, and therefore entitled to the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment, they would not cloak him with immunity from the legal consequences for concomitant acts committed in violation of a valid criminal statute. We turn, therefore, to an examination of the statute itself.

Allowing the broadest scope to the language and purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment, it is well understood that the right of free speech is not absolute at all times and under all circumstances.2 There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention

Page 572

and punishment of which has never been thought to raise any Constitutional problem.3 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.4 It has been well observed that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and...

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2018 practice notes
  • U.S. v. Chagra, Nos. 82-1263
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • March 14, 1983
    ...2559, 69 L.Ed.2d 298 (1981); FCC v. Pacifica Foundation, 438 U.S. 726, 98 S.Ct. 3026, 57 L.Ed.2d 1073 (1978); Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568, 62 S.Ct. 766, 86 L.Ed. 1031 27 See New York Times v. United States, 403 U.S. 713, 91 S.Ct. 2140, 29 L.Ed.2d 822 (1971) (per curiam). 28 Se......
  • McLaughlin v. City of Lowell, CIVIL ACTION NO. 14-10270-DPW
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts
    • October 23, 2015
    ...words," a category of speech that largely falls outside the First Amendment's protections. Chaplinsky v. State of New Hampshire , 315 U.S. 568, 572, 62 S.Ct. 766, 86 L.Ed. 1031 (1942) (holding that the Constitution does not protect words which "tend to incite an immediate breach of the peac......
  • United States v. Ackell, No. 17-1784
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • October 24, 2018
    ...problem." United States v. Stevens, 559 U.S. 460, 468-469, 130 S.Ct. 1577, 176 L.Ed.2d 435 (2010) (quoting Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568, 571-72, 62 S.Ct. 766, 86 L.Ed. 1031 (1942) ). Two of these classes are relevant here—"true threats," see Virginia v. Black, 538 U.S. 343, 359......
  • Leonard v. Robinson, No. 05-1728.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • February 2, 2007
    ...in this case. Although "the right of free speech is not absolute at all times and under all circumstances," Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568, 571, 62 S.Ct. 766, 86 L.Ed. 1031 (1942), Leonard's utterance of "God damn," was not, as a matter of law "likely to cause a fight." Id. at 57......
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2013 cases
  • U.S. v. Chagra, Nos. 82-1263
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • March 14, 1983
    ...2559, 69 L.Ed.2d 298 (1981); FCC v. Pacifica Foundation, 438 U.S. 726, 98 S.Ct. 3026, 57 L.Ed.2d 1073 (1978); Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568, 62 S.Ct. 766, 86 L.Ed. 1031 27 See New York Times v. United States, 403 U.S. 713, 91 S.Ct. 2140, 29 L.Ed.2d 822 (1971) (per curiam). 28 Se......
  • McLaughlin v. City of Lowell, CIVIL ACTION NO. 14-10270-DPW
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts
    • October 23, 2015
    ...words," a category of speech that largely falls outside the First Amendment's protections. Chaplinsky v. State of New Hampshire , 315 U.S. 568, 572, 62 S.Ct. 766, 86 L.Ed. 1031 (1942) (holding that the Constitution does not protect words which "tend to incite an immediate breach of the peac......
  • United States v. Ackell, No. 17-1784
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • October 24, 2018
    ...problem." United States v. Stevens, 559 U.S. 460, 468-469, 130 S.Ct. 1577, 176 L.Ed.2d 435 (2010) (quoting Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568, 571-72, 62 S.Ct. 766, 86 L.Ed. 1031 (1942) ). Two of these classes are relevant here—"true threats," see Virginia v. Black, 538 U.S. 343, 359......
  • Leonard v. Robinson, No. 05-1728.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • February 2, 2007
    ...in this case. Although "the right of free speech is not absolute at all times and under all circumstances," Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568, 571, 62 S.Ct. 766, 86 L.Ed. 1031 (1942), Leonard's utterance of "God damn," was not, as a matter of law "likely to cause a fight." Id. at 57......
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8 books & journal articles
  • SEARCHING FOR TRUTH IN THE FIRST AMENDMENT'S TRUE THREAT DOCTRINE.
    • United States
    • Michigan Law Review Vol. 120 Nbr. 4, February 2022
    • February 1, 2022
    ...v. California, 314 U.S. 252, 270 (1941). (7.) R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, 505 U.S. 377,383 (1992); see also Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568, 571-72 (8.) Virginia v. Black, 538 U.S. 343, 359 (2003). (9.) See infra note 33. (10.) See True, MERRIAM-WEBSTER, https://www.merriam-webste......
  • Pornography and Politics: the Court, the Constitution, and the Commission
    • United States
    • Political Research Quarterly Nbr. 24-4, December 1971
    • December 1, 1971
    ...standard whenliterature treating with sex is concerned a&dquo; 1412 343 U.S. 250 (1952).13 Ibid.; Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568 (1942).14 354 U.S. at 638Mr. Justice Harlan, opposing Brennan’s all-encompassing approach, advo-cated independent judicial review of obscenity findings......
  • The Fiction of the First Freedom
    • United States
    • Political Research Quarterly Nbr. 6-2, June 1953
    • June 1, 1953
    ...312 U.S. 569 (1941); Niemotko v. Maryland, 340 U.S. 268 (1951); Kunz v. New York, 340 U.S. 290 (1951). 16 Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568 (1942); Winters v. New York, 333 U.S. 507 (1948). 17 Toledo Newspaper Co. v. United States, 247 U.S. 402 (1918); Bridges v. California, 314 U.S......
  • Taking the Fight Out of Fighting Words on the Doctrine's Eightieth Anniversary: What 'N' Word Litigation Today Reveals About Assumptions, Flaws and Goals of a First Amendment Principle in Disarray.
    • United States
    • Missouri Law Review Vol. 87 Nbr. 2, March 2022
    • March 22, 2022
    ...v. Baccala, 163 A.3d 1 (Conn. 2017). (2) In re Spivey, 480 S.E.2d 693, 699 (N.C. 1997). (3) Id. at 695, 698; Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568, 573 (4) Spivey, 480 S.E.2d at 699. (5) David L. Hudson, Jr., The Fighting Words Doctrine: Alive and Well in the Lower Courts, 19 U.N.H. L. ......
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