SpeechPublicityContemptReportersReligionUnionAnonymousPolygamySocialBillReplyDangerReligiousChurchObscenityAnti-AbortionAnimalProtestsHairOverbreadthNewsracksPicketingEspionageSurveillanceMailPetitionAccessRightRightsMoviesFreedomWordsSyndicalismProsecutionTrueLawsOrdinancesCourtAdmissionsGrandMilitarySamBanningSolicitationsAcademicLiquorWallOrdersTaxFinanceSymbolicAssemblyJuryMarketplaceHoldingsPropertyAssociationSchoolsServiceAntitrustFightingOathsSelectivePublicWitnessesPresentSolicitationPressRestrictionsRegulationsChildForumFalsityBarQualifiedDancingBoycottPornographyPriorImmunityThreatsTeachersFlagSecondaryAdultBookDisplaysNoiseTestPresidentialEffectsStandingSacrificeWorkLawyersProfaneIssuesDoctrineGovernmentInvestigations SpeechPublicityContemptReportersReligionUnionAnonymousPolygamySocialBillReplyDangerReligiousChurchObscenityAnti-AbortionAnimalProtestsHairOverbreadthNewsracksPicketingEspionageSurveillanceMailPetitionAccessRightRightsMoviesFreedomWordsSyndicalismProsecutionTrueLawsOrdinancesCourtAdmissionsGrandMilitarySamBanningSolicitationsAcademicLiquorWallOrdersTaxFinanceSymbolicAssemblyJuryMarketplaceHoldingsPropertyAssociationSchoolsServiceAntitrustFightingOathsSelectivePublicWitnessesPresentSolicitationPressRestrictionsRegulationsChildForumFalsityBarQualifiedDancingBoycottPornographyPriorImmunityThreatsTeachersFlagSecondaryAdultBookDisplaysNoiseTestPresidentialEffectsStandingSacrificeWorkLawyersProfaneIssuesDoctrineGovernmentInvestigations SpeechPublicityContemptReportersReligionUnionAnonymousPolygamySocialBillReplyDangerReligiousChurchObscenityAnti-AbortionAnimalProtestsHairOverbreadthNewsracksPicketingEspionageSurveillanceMailPetitionAccessRightRightsMoviesFreedomWordsSyndicalismProsecutionTrueLawsOrdinancesCourtAdmissionsGrandMilitarySamBanningSolicitationsAcademicLiquorWallOrdersTaxFinanceSymbolicAssemblyJuryMarketplaceHoldingsPropertyAssociationSchoolsServiceAntitrustFightingOathsSelectivePublicWitnessesPresentSolicitationPressRestrictionsRegulationsChildForumFalsityBarQualifiedDancingBoycottPornographyPriorImmunityThreatsTeachersFlagSecondaryAdultBookDisplaysNoiseTestPresidentialEffectsStandingSacrificeWorkLawyersProfaneIssuesDoctrineGovernmentInvestigations SpeechPublicityContemptReportersReligionUnionAnonymousPolygamySocialBillReplyDangerReligiousChurchObscenityAnti-AbortionAnimalProtestsHairOverbreadthNewsracksPicketingEspionageSurveillanceMailPetitionAccessRightRightsMoviesFreedomWordsSyndicalismProsecutionTrueLawsOrdinancesCourtAdmissionsGrandMilitarySamBanningSolicitationsAcademicLiquorWallOrdersTaxFinanceSymbolicAssemblyJuryMarketplaceHoldingsPropertyAssociationSchoolsServiceAntitrustFightingOathsSelectivePublicWitnessesPresentSolicitationPressRestrictionsRegulationsChildForumFalsityBarQualifiedDancingBoycottPornographyPriorImmunityThreatsTeachersFlagSecondaryAdultBookDisplaysNoiseTestPresidentialEffectsStandingSacrificeWorkLawyersProfaneIssuesDoctrineGovernmentInvestigations

The First Amendment Encyclopedia

Articles, news and insights about free expression in America

Chronology

This is a First Amendment chronology compiled as part of The First Amendment Encyclopedia and includes key dates and events related to the development of the principles of individual liberties contained in the First Amendment -- covering freedom of speech and religion, separation of church and state, a free press and rights to assemble and petition the government.

313

The Roman emperor Constantine extends toleration of religions to Christianity.

1215

King John of England signs the Magna Carta, which becomes the basis for many future claims of civil liberties.

1517

Martin Luther, a German monk, posts his Ninety-five Theses, thus ushering in the Protestant Reformation.

1517

The Anabaptist Schleitheim Confession, in Switzerland, argues for greater separation of church and state.

1534

The Act of Supremacy declares the Church of England independent from Rome.

1607

Colonization begins in Virginia, which will establish the Anglican Church.

1619

The first African Americans are brought to Jamestown, Virginia, as slaves.

1620

The Pilgrims land at Massachusetts.

1641

England abolishes the notorious Star Chamber, which prosecuted individuals for libeling the king.

1643

The English Parliament establishes a restrictive printing ordinance.

1644

John Milton anonymously publishes the Areopagitica, a pamphlet opposing England's restrictive printing ordinance.

1648

The first known use of the phrase “free exercise” appears in America in a document written by Lord Baltimore in an attempt to ensure such freedom for Roman Catholics settling in Maryland.

1660

John Bunyan, who later would write Pilgrim’s Progress, begins twelve years of intermittent imprisonment in England for his preaching.

1663

Rhode Island’s charter provides for “liberty of conscience.”

1670

William Penn publishes The Great Case of Liberty of Conscience.

1670

William Penn and William Mead are tried in England for street preaching.

1672

The British Test Act restricts public offices to Anglicans.

1687

James II of England issues a Declaration of Indulgence protecting the rights of Catholics and Protestant dissenters to worship.

1688

The Glorious Revolution deposes James II in favor of William and Mary. The Toleration Act ends British persecution of Protestant dissenters but does not disestablish the Anglican Church.

1689

The English Bill of Rights recognizes the rights of Protestants to worship.

1689

John Locke's "Letter on Toleration" is published in England.

1692

The Salem Witch Trials take place in New England.

1695

John Locke publishes The Reasonableness of Christianity.

1735

The trial of Peter Zenger in New York introduces truth as a defense in libel cases.

1744

Elisha Williams pleads for liberty of conscience in religious affairs.

1751

James Madison is born.

1758

Jonathan Edwards, an important clergyman during the Great Awakening, dies.

1762

John Wilkes begins publishing the North Briton, which will lead to his expulsion from the British Parliament.

1765

England imposes the Stamp Act on the American colonies.

1774

The Quebec Act offends Protestants in the thirteen American colonies.

1774

The Quebec Act offends Protestants in the thirteen American colonies.

1776

Virginia adopts a Declaration of Rights; James Madison insists that the law must go beyond mere "tolderation."

1776

The Second Continental Congress adopts the Declaration of Independence.

1777

Congress proposes the Articles of Confederation.

1781

The Articles of Confederation, which vests primary power in the states, is ratified.

1786

Virginia adopts its Statute for Religious Freedom, disestablishing the Anglican Church.

1787

The Constitutional Convention meets in Philadelphia and submits a constitution to the states for ratification. It includes a provision against test oaths for federal officeholders and allows individual to affirm rather than to swear oaths, but makes no specific mention of God.

1787

The Northwest Ordinance indicates Congress's desire to provide public education in the American territories.

1788

Most of the thirteen states hold conventions to ratify the Constitution; Anti-Federalists object to the absence of a bill of rights.

1789

George Washington becomes the first president of the United States.

1789

James Madison proposes a bill of rights in the first Congress.

1789

John Jay is confirmed as the first chief justice of the United States.

1790

Congress adopts the Copyright Act.

1791

The states ratify ten of the twelve amendments proposed as the Bill of Rights.

1794

Thomas Paine publishes The Age of Reason.

1798

Congress adopts the Sedition Act. The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions challenge the constitutionality of the law.

1800

Madison writes the Virginia Report challenging the Sedition Act.

1801

John Adams appoints John Marshall as chief justice of the United States.

1801

Thomas Jefferson is elected president and pardons individuals convicted under the Sedition Act.

1801

Tunis Wortman publishes A Treastise Concerning Political Enquiry and the Liberty of the Press.

1802

Thomas Jefferson refers to "the wall of separation" between church and state in a letter to the Danbury Baptists.

1803

Chief Justice John Marshall's opinion in Marbury v. Madison justifies judicial review of congressional legislation.

1804

In People v. Croswell, the New York supreme court reviews a libel conviction of Harry Croswell, whom Alexander Hamilton defended on the basis of the truth of Croswell's accusations.

1811

The New York supreme court upholds a blasphemy conviction in People v. Rugglesarguing that U.S. law incorporates British common law principles.

1812

In overturning a conviction, the Supreme Court in United States v. Hudson and Goodwin affirms that there is no federal common law of libel.

1813

In People v. Phillips, a New York court issues what is believed to be the first free exercise case upholding the priest-penitent privilege.

1815

In Commonwealth v. Sharpless, the Pennsylvania supreme court upholds the first known obscenity conviction in the United States.

1815

In Terrett v. Taylor, the Supreme Court rules that a state’s incorporation of religious bodies is permissible and that such incorporation subsequently serves as protection for land that they own.

1821

In Anderson v. Dunn, the Supreme Court makes its first explicit references to the First Amendment freedoms of speech and press.

1825

Following English precedents, the Massachusetts supreme court decides in Commonwealth v. Blanding that an individual can be guilty of libel even for statements that are truthful.

1830s

Congress debates the constitutionality of gag rules suppressing anti-slavery petitions.

1831

Congress adopts a law limiting the power of judges to issue contempt of court rulings after James H. Peck, a judge on the U.S. district court in Missouri, is thought to have abused the power by imprisoning an individual who criticized one of his opinions.

1831

John Bannister Gibson, a Pennsylvania supreme court justice decides, in Phillips et al. (Simon’s Executors) v. Gratz, that a court did not have to postpone its proceedings for a Jewish defendant who refused to appear on his Sabbath.

1833

The Supreme Court decides in Barron v. Baltimore that the provisions of the Bill of Rights do not apply to the states.

1833

Massachusetts amends its constitution to become the last state to disestablish an official religion.

1838

The Supreme Court of Massachusetts upholds the last known blasphemy conviction in the United States in Commonwealth v. Kneeland.

1844

Justice Joseph Story, while upholding a will that limited Christian teaching, affirms that Christianity is part of the common law in Vidal v. Girard's Executors.

1845

In Permoli v. New Orleans the Supreme Court affirms that the free exercise clause of the First Amendment does not apply to the states.

1856

In Baker v. Nachtrieb, the Supreme Court sustains an agreement between the leader and a former member of the Harmony Society.

1857

In Scott v. Sandford, the Supreme Court rules that black people in the United States are not and cannot be U.S. citizens and that laws forbidding slavery in the territories are unconstitutional.

1859

John Stuart Mill publishes On Liberty.

1859

In Commonwealth v. Cooke, a Massachusetts court rules against the state's prosecution of a teacher who had beaten a public school child who refused to repeat the King James Version of the Lord's Prayer and the Ten Commandments.

1860

Abraham Lincoln is elected president.

1861

The Civil War begins.

1864

Congress authorizes the addition of the phrase "In God We Trust" to U.S. coins.

1865

The Civil War ends.

1865

The Thirteenth Amendment is ratified, ending slavery.

1868

The Fourteenth Amendment, which extends citizenship and guarantees all citizens due process of law, is ratified.

1872

In Board of Education of the City of Cincinnati v. Minor, the Ohio supreme court rules that a school board can repeal a regulation requiring that public schools hold opening exercises consisting of Bible reading and singing.

1872

In Watson v. Jones, the Supreme Court establishes principles that continue to dominate resolution of internal religious disputes.

1873

Congress adopts the Comstock Act, designed to limit the distribution of obscenity.

1873

The Supreme Court gives a limited reading to the Fourteenth Amendment in the Slaughterhouse Cases.

1875

President Ulysses S. Grant proposes what becomes known as the Blaine Amendment, limiting aid to parochial schools.

1876

In United States v. Cruikshank, the Supreme Court affirms that freedom of assembly is a natural right but also states that the First Amendment offers protection only against deprivation by the national government.

1877

Reconstruction ends in the South.

1882

In Ex parte Curtis, the Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of an 1876 act that prohibits U.S. government officials from requesting or receiving money from other government employees for political purposes.

1890

In Davis v. Beason, the Supreme Court upholds penalties against polygamists by distinguishing religious conduct from religious belief.

1890

In Late Corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints v. United States, the Supreme Court upholds the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887, which repealed the charter of Mormons and seized their property for educational purposes.

1891

The Supreme Court in In re Rapier upholds a conviction prohibiting use of the U.S. mail for advertising lotteries of sending lottery tickets.

1899

In Bradfield v. Roberts, the Supreme Court upholds a federal expenditure on a religious hospital, thus turning back the first challenge to such expenditures under the establishment clause.

1902

The Free Speech League is organized.

1907

The Supreme Court in Halter v. Nebraska upholds a conviction for printing an American flag on a beer bottle.

1907

The Supreme Court in Patterson v. Colorado upholds a contempt citation against the publisher of a newspaper that had printed articles and a cartoon criticizing a Colorado court in a pending case.

1907

The Tillman Act forbids some campaign contributions.

1910

The Wireless Ship Act addresses the emerging technology of radio.

1911

In United States v. Press Publishing Co.the Supreme Court overturns a libel conviction against individuals who had alleged that Theodore Roosevelt, while president, had profited from the sales of the Panama Canal.

1915

The Birth of a Nation, a controversial movie, stirs renewed interest in the Ku Klux Klan.

1917

The Bolshevik faction of the Communist Party seizes power in Russia.

1917

Congress adopts the Espionage Act.

1917

The United States enters World War I.

1918

Congress adopts another Espionage Act.

1919

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. formulates the clear and present danger test in Schenck v. United States.

The first anticommunist "red scare" begins.

In Abrams v. United Statesthe Supreme Court upholds the conviction of Russian immigrants for circulating anti-war documents.

1920

The Nineteenth Amendment prohibits restrictions on voting on the basis of sex.

The American Civil Liberties Union is founded.

Zechariah Chafee Jr. publishes Freedom of Speech.

1923

In Meyer v. Nebraska, the Supreme Court voids a state law prohibiting the teaching of modern languages to children in public schools.

1925

In Gitlow v. New York, the Supreme Court rules that freedom of speech applies to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment.

The “Scopes monkey trial,” a landmark case involving the teaching of evolution in public schools, takes place in a Tennessee criminal court.

In Pierce v. Society of Sisters, the Supreme Court upholds the right of parents to send children to parochial schools.

The Corrupt Practices Act attempts to regulate campaign contributions.

1927

In Fiske v. Kansas, the Supreme Court reverses a conviction under a state criminal syndicalism law.

Justice Louis D. Brandeis praises freedom of expression in a concurring opinion in Whitney v. California.

1930

The Supreme Court in Cochran v. Board of Education upholds the right of Louisiana state officials to provide secular textbooks to children in parochial schools.

1931

In Near v. Minnesota, the Supreme Court applies the First Amendment presumption against prior restraint of publications to the states.

Green River, Wyoming, adopts laws limiting door-to-door solicitations; such laws come to be known as Green River Ordinances.

1934

Congress enacts the Communications Act.

1936

In Grosjean v. American Press Co.the Supreme Court strikes down a Louisiana law that disproportionately burdened some newspapers through taxation.

1937

Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo affirms the doctrine of selective incorporation in Palko v. Connecticut.

1938

Justice Harlan Fiske Stone, in his Carolene Products footnote four, advances a "double standard" that gives increased protection for provisions of the Bill of Rights.

1939

The Supreme Court in Schneider v. State overturns a city law limiting the distribution of handbills.

The Hatch Act limits the political activities of federal employees.

1940

The Supreme Court in Cantwell v. Connecticut relies on the free exercise clause to allow door-to-door solicitation by Jehovah's Witnesses.

The Smith Act makes it a crime to avocate the violent overthrow of the government.

In Minersville School District v. Gobitisthe Supreme Court rules that children may be expelled for refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools.

1941

The United States enters World War II after the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor.

Zechariah Chafee Jr. publishes Freedom of Speech in the United States.

1942

The Supreme Court articulates the doctrine of "fighting words" in Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire.

1943

In Murdock v. Pennsylvaniathe Supreme Court invalidates a license tax imposed on Jehovah's Witnesses going door to door.

The Supreme Court in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette overturns Minersville School District v. Gobitis, which had required compulsory flag salutes in public schools.

1947

In Everson v. Board of Educationthe Supreme Court refers to the separation of church and state while allowing for the provision of state bus transportion of students to parochial schools. This decision completes the process of "incorporation" of rights within the First Amendment.

1948

In Illinois ex rel. McCollum v. Board of Educationthe Supreme Court finds that the religious provision of instruction on public school grounds violates the establishment clause.

1949

The Federal Communications Commission promulgates the fairness doctrine.

1950

North Korea invades South Korea, fueling concerns about the spread of international communism. The United States enters the conflict under the auspices of the United Nations.

Congress adopts the Subversive Activities Control Act, or the McCarran Act.

The "Hollywood Ten" begin to serve one-year prison terms for contempts after having refused on First and Fifth Amendment grounds to answer questions about their alleged communist affiliations before Congress.

1951

In Dennis v. United Statesthe Supreme Court upholds the convictions of American communists under provisions of the Smith Act.

1952

In Burstyn v. Wilsonthe Supreme Court overrules a state supreme court decision that had attempted to censure a movie for blasphemy.

In Zorach v. Clauson, the Supreme Court upholds a "released time" program for religious instruction for public school children that had taken place off the school campus.

1953

Earl Warren becomes chief justice of the United States.

1954

Congress adds the words "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance.

Sen. Joe McCarthy's hearings on alleged communist influences in the military lead to a backlash against his red-baiting tactics.

In Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court declares an end to de jure racial segregation.

1957

In Roth v. United Statesthe Supreme Court attempts to redefine obscenity.

In Watkins v. United Statesthe Supreme Court attempts to limit the scope of congressional investigations.

1958

In NAACP v. Alabamathe Supreme Court finds a right of association within the First Amendment through which it protects membership lists against state investigation.

1959

The Supreme Court rules in Barenblatt v. United States that Congress can require witnesses to testify as to their past associations.

1960

The Supreme Court in Torcaso v. Watkins strikes down a state law prohibiting individuals from becoming notaries public unless that have professed faith in God.

The first televised presidential debates, between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon, are broadcast.

John F. Kennedy becomes the first Roman Catholic to be elected president of the United States.

1961

In Garner v. Louisianathe Supreme Court issues the first of a number of decisions voiding breach of the peace statutes as applied to civil rights demonstrations.

1962

In Engel v. Vitale, the Supreme Court declares public prayer in public schools to be in violation of the establishment clause.

1963

In Abington School District v. Schempp, the Supreme Court extends Engel to include devotional Bible reading and recitations of the Lord's Prayer.

In Sherbert v. Vernerthe Supreme Court rules that a state must extend unemployment benefits to an individual who loses a job because she will not work on her Sabbath.

1964

The Supreme Court in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan establishes strict standards for a public official plaintiff in a defamation case.

Berkeley, California, becomes the center of a free speech movement.

1965

Congress adopts the Draft Card Mutilation Act.

The Supreme Court articulates a constitutional right to privacy in Griswold v. Connecticut.

1966

In Sheppard v. Maxwell, the Supreme Court overturns a conviction based on excessive media presence in the courtroom.

1968

In Epperson v. Arkansasthe Supreme Court invalidates a state law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in public schools.

Congress adopts the Flag Protection Act.

The Supreme Court in Board of Education v. Allen affirms programs that loan secular textbooks to parochial school students.

In Flast v. Cohen, the Supreme Court opens the door to taxpayer suits involving the establishment clause.

While upholding a congressional law banning the burning of draft cards, the Supreme Court outlines standards for cases mixing speech and conduct in United States v. O’Brien.

In Pickering v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court rules that public employees retain a First Amendment right to speak on issues of public concern.

1969

In Brandenburg v. Ohiothe Supreme Court establishes a standard to determine when the advocacy of illegal conduct crosses the line into unprotected incitement of imminent lawless action.

In Stanley v. Georgia, the Supreme Court strikes down a conviction for viewing pornography in one’s home.

In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, the Supreme Court rules that public school students in Iowa have a right to wear black armbands to school to protest U.S.involvement in the Vietnam War. The Court establishes a test protective of student-initiated speech. The decision is considered the high-water mark of student First Amendment rights.

1970

The Commission on Obscenity and Pornography issues its report.

The Supreme Court upholds tax exemption of church property in Walz v. Tax Commission of the City of New York.

1971

In Cohen v. California, the Supreme Court invalidates a breach of the peace conviction for a young man who wore a jacket with a profane message into a California court house. The Court determines that the profane message was not fighting words because the message was not directed at any specific individual. Justice John Marshall Harlan II writes that “one man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric.”

In Lemon v. Kurtzman, the Supreme Court establishes a three-part test to determine when regulations that affect religion violate the establishment clause. Despite criticism, the Lemon test is still used in establishment clause cases.

The Supreme Court in Tilton v. Richardson upholds a provision allowing federal aid for construction at religious colleges and universities in some instances.

The Supreme Court in New York Times Co. v. United States strikes down federal injunctions against publication of the Pentagon Papers, a classified report on the Vietnam War.

Congress adopts the Federal Election Campaign Act.

1972

In Branzburg v. Hayes, the Supreme Court rules that reporters cannot shield their confidential sources from grand jury questions.

The Supreme Court in Wisconsin v. Yoder allows the parents of Amish children to take their children out of school after the eighth grade.

1973

The Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, upholding the legality of first and second trimester abortions, evokes protest.

The Supreme Court in Miller v. California sets forth a three-part test for obscenity.

1974

In Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., the Supreme Court rules that the standard of “actual malice” does not apply to libel against an attorney.

Congress further revises the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971.

1976

In Buckley v. Valeo, the Supreme Court upholds most, but not all, post-Watergate campaign reform laws.

In Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart, the Supreme Court limits the use of gag orders in controversial cases.

1978

In Federal Communications Commission v. Pacifica Foundation, the Supreme Court upholds some control over vulgar radio broadcasting.

In Zurcher v. Stanford Daily, the Supreme Court upholds the use of a warrant to search a newspaper office.

The Supreme Court in McDaniel v. Paty strikes down Tennessee’s ban on members of the clergy serving in political positions.

Congress adopts the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.

1979

The Moral Majority if formed to promote conservative religious values.

1980

In Stone v. Graham, the Supreme Court strikes down a Kentucky law requiring the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools.

1982

In New York v. Ferber, the Supreme Court allows for regulation of child pornography.

1983

In Marsh v. Chambers, the Supreme Court sustains the Nebraska Legislature’s practice of hiring a chaplain to say prayers at the beginning of each day’s work.

In Connick v. Myers, the Supreme Court clarifies when public employees retain First Amendment rights in the workplace.

1984

Congress adopts the Cable Communications Policy Act.

Congress adopts the Equal Access Act.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor articulates an endorsement test in a concurring opinion in Lynch v. Donnellya creche dispay case.

1986

The Attorney General's Commission on Pornography issues its report.

William H. Rehnquist becomes chief justice of the United States.

In Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser, the Supreme Court rules that public school officials can regulate student speech that is vulgar, lewd, or plainly offensive.

1987

In Turner v. Safley, the Supreme Court establishes a rational-basis standard for review of First Amendment claims by prison inmates, a standard that generally defers to prison officials.

In Rankin v. McPherson, the Supreme Court rules that a clerical employee in a constable’s office has a First Amendment right to speak harshly about the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan.

1988

In Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, the Supreme Court rules that public school officials have authority to regulate certain school-sponsored student speech.

In Hustler Magazine v. Falwell, the Supreme Court unanimously rules that evangelist Jerry Falwell cannot recover monetary damages from pornography publisher Larry Flynt for intentional infliction of emotional distress resulting from a cartoon parody.

1989

Congress enacts the Anti-Dial-a-Porn Act.

The Berlin Wall is torn down, signaling an end to the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The Supreme Court outlaws a state law against flag burning in Texas v. Johnson.

1990

Congress enacts the Child Pornography Restoration and Penalties Enhancement Act.

The Supreme Court in Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith upholds a state law affecting religious practice without requiring the state to show a compelling interest.

The Supreme Court in United States v. Eichman strikes down a federal law against flag burning. Like the ruling in Texas v. Johnson (1989), the decision stirs renewed interest in a constitutional amendment to overturn it.

In Board of Education of the Westside Community Schools v. Mergens, the Supreme Court affirms the constitutionality of the Equal Access Act of 1984.

A U.S. district court judge rules in Skyywalker Records, Inc. v. Navarro that an earlier ruling against 2 Live Crew for obscene rap lyrics was an unconstitutional prior restraint.

1992

Congress adopts the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act.

The Supreme Court in Lee v.Weisman bans public prayer at public school graduations.

In R.A.V. v. St. Paul, the Supreme Court limits prosecutions under hate speech statutes.

1993

Congress adopts the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The Supreme Court strikes down an ordinance targeting animal sacrifice in Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah.

1994

The Supreme Court rules in City of Ladue v. Gilleo that an Ohio woman has a First Amendment right to display an anti-war sign in her front yard and window.

1995

The Supreme Court rules that the University of Virginia cannot deny student activity fees to religious groups in Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia.

In Florida Bar v. Went for It, Inc., the Supreme Court upholds a Florida state rule that prohibits attorneys from sending solicitation letters to accident victims or their family members until 30 days after the event.

1996

Congress adopts the Telecommunications Act, part of which is the Communications Decency Act.

Congress adopts the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, allowing government contracts with faith-based organizations.

In 44 Liquormart, Inc. v. Rhode Island, the Supreme Court strengthens protection for commercial speech while striking down restrictions on liquor prices.

1997

In City of Boerne v. Flores, the Supreme Court strikes down the application of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to the states.

In Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, the Supreme Court strikes down two provisions of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, the first major speech restriction aimed at the Internet.

1998

Congress passes the Child Online Protection Act, the second major congressional Internet-speech law.

In National Endowment for the Arts v. Finley, the Supreme Court allows the government to consider community standards in determining which art projects to fund.

2000

The Supreme Court rules in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe that a high school’s practice of announcing prayers over the loudspeaker at football games violates the estabishment clause.

Congress passes the Children’s Internet Protection Act.

Congress adopts the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

2001

Al-Qaida attacks in the United States stir questions about the treatment of Muslims in the United States. Congress responds to the attacks by adopting the USA Patriot Act.

2002

Congress adopts the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.

In Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, the Supreme Court strikes down a restriction on the free speech rights of judicial candidates.

2003

In Virginia v. Black, the Supreme Court declares that some incidents of cross burnings may transgress the First Amendment.

In McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court affirms the ban on soft money contributions passed in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.

In United States v. American Library Association, the Supreme Court upholds the Children’s Internet Protection Act of 2000, a federal law requiring Internet filtering in public libraries.

2004

A lower court decision in Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow raises questions about the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.

The Supreme Court in Ashcroft v. American Civil Liberties Union rules that the Child Online Protection Act of 1998 is overly broad and unduly restricts the speech of adults.

2005

In Cutter v. Wilkinson, the Supreme Court upholds the application of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 to Ohio prisoners.

The Supreme Court issues a pair of 5-4 decisions in Ten Commandments cases, upholding a monument display in a Texas public park in Van Orden v. Perry and striking down displays in two Kentucky county courthouses in McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union.

A district court decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District cites the establishment clause in invalidating a law requiring the teaching of intelligent design in public school.

John G. Roberts Jr. is confirmed as chief justice of the United States.

2006

In a decision later vacated as moot by the Supreme Court, a U.S. circuit court rules that a high school has the right to limit the wearing of t-shirts displaying antigay messages.

2007

In Morse v. Frederick, the Supreme Court rules that school officials can censor or punish student speech seen as advocating illegal drug use.

In Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc., the Supreme Court rules that restrictions on advertising in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 are unconstitutional as applied.

2008

In United States v. Williams, the Supreme Court upholds a provision of the U.S. Code prohibiting pandering of child pornography against charges that the provision was overly broad.

In Davis v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court invalidates the “Millionaire’s Amendment” to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.

2009

In Pleasant Grove v. Summum, the Supreme Court allowed a city to refused to place a permanent monument with the Seven Aphorisms of Summum [the name of a religious organization] in a public park.

2010

In Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the Supreme Court allowed a public law school to deny facilities to a religious organization that had what it considered to be discriminatory policies for its officers.

In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a provision of the bipartisan Campaign Reform Act that prohibited corporations and unions from using general treasuring funds for express advocacy or electioneering communications.

2011

In Snyder v. Phelps, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of protestors at military funerals.

In Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, the Supreme Court invalidated a California law seeking to regulate violent video games.

In Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Arizona taxpayers did not have standing, as taxpayers, to challenge tax credits to school tuition organizations.

2012

In Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, the Court recognized a “ministerial exception” exempting certain employees of religious institutions from employment discrimination.

In United States v. Alvarez, the Supreme Court struck down the “stolen valor” act, which punished individuals who made false claims about military awards.

2013

Edward Snowden a systems administration with the National Security Agency leaked thousands of classified documents.

Chelsea (previously Bradley) Manning, an intelligence analyst in Iraq leaked government documents.

In Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a provision of an act that sought to prevent the distribution of aid to nongovernmental organizations that did not explicitly oppose prostitution or sex trafficking.

2014

In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act exemp0ted closely-held corporations from providing contraceptive coverage that they considered to be abortifacients in conflict with their religious beliefs.

In Town of Greece v. Galloway, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the practice of a New York town to have a public prayer before town meetings did not violate the Establishment Clause.

In McCullen v. Coakley, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a Massachusetts law that sought to prohibit anti-abortion counselors from standing within 35 feet of sidewalks outside of abortion clinics.

2015

In Holt v. Hobbs, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an Arkansas prison violated the religious liberty of a Muslim inmate by refusing to allow him to grow a short beard.

In Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of Texas to reject specialty license plates with an image of the Confederate battle flag.

In Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a provision of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct that barred judicial candidates from personally soliciting funds.

In Equal Employment Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, the U.S. Supreme held that an employer could be liable if it denies employment to an otherwise qualified individual out of concerns about a head scarf that she wore as a result of her religious faith.

In Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidates state laws against gay marriage.

2016

Justice Antonin Scalia dies.

Donald J. Trump is elected 45th President of the United States, amid accusations that the Russians tried to interfere in the election.

2017

Neil Gorsuch is confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In International Refugee Assistance Protect v. Trump, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court invalidated a revised presidential order seeking to bar immigrants from certain predominately-Muslim countries.

Contact Us

Interested in First Amendment current events and history?