The First Amendment Encyclopedia

Presented by the John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies

Case Categories: Freedom of Association

The freedom of association — unlike the rights of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition — is a right not listed in the First Amendment but recognized by the courts as a fundamental right.

There are two types of freedom of association: the right to expressive association and the right to intimate association.

Additionally, the First Amendment protects a right to associate and a right not to associate together.

The right to expressive association refers to the right of people to associate together for expressive purposes – often for political purposes. The U.S. Supreme Court recognized this right in NAACP v. Alabama (1958), reasoning that individual members of the civil rights group had a right to associate together free from undue state interference. 

Another line of freedom of association cases concern the rights of political parties to set their own rules and govern their internal affairs.  

A key aspect of freedom to associate is the ability of a group to associate with like-minded persons. Some freedom of association cases have proven difficult to navigate for the courts, because the freedom to associate or not associate often runs headlong into a state public accommodation or anti-discrimination law

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