The First Amendment Encyclopedia

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

Case Categories: Compelled Speech

The compelled speech doctrine sets out the principle that the government cannot force an individual or group to support certain expression. Thus, the First Amendment not only limits the government from punishing a person for his speech, it also prevents the government from punishing a person for refusing to articulate, advocate, or adhere to the government’s approved messages.

The Supreme Court’s decision in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943) is the classic example of the compelled speech doctrine at work.

In this case, the Court ruled that a state cannot force children to stand, salute the flag, and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The justices held that school children who are Jehovah’s Witnesses, for religious reasons, had a First Amendment right not to recite the Pledge of Allegiance or salute the U.S. flag.

In oft-cited language, Justice Robert H. Jackson asserted, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

Read more Supreme Court cases on compelled speech:

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