Congress will make no law abridging the freedom of speech
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Congress will make no law….. abridging the freedom of Speech. Sedition Act of 1918.

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Sedition act of 1918
Sedition Act of 1918 Speech

  • The Sedition Act of 1918 was an Act signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson on May 16, 1918.[1] It forbade the use of "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" about the United States government, its flag, or its armed forces or that caused others to view the American government or its institutions with contempt. The act also allowed the Postmaster General to refuse to deliver mail that met those same standards It applied only to times "when the United States is in war."[2] It was repealed on December 13, 1920.[3]

  • Though the legislation enacted in 1918 is commonly called the Sedition Act, it was actually a set of amendments to the Espionage Act.[4] Therefore many studies of the Espionage Act and the Sedition Act find it difficult to report about the two "acts" separately.


Schenck v united states 1919
Schenck v. United States (1919) Speech

  • Charles Schenck was a socialist arrested for violating the Espionage Act by distributing pamphlets urging draftees to refuse to serve in World War I

  • Supreme Court in Schenck v. United States established new standard for judging which dangerous speech could be restricted

  • Words that create "a clear and present danger that they will being about… substantive evils" are not protected by First Amendment


The espionage and sedition acts
The Espionage and Sedition acts Speech

  • For Schenck: The Espionage Act was unconstitutional. Schenck and the Socialist party were persecuted for opposing what they felt was an “immoral war.” The 1st Amendment was specifically included in the Constitution to protect political speech, and to prevent a “tyranny of the majority.” The 1st Amendment protections would be meaningless if Congress could choose where and when citizen's rights may be diminished.

  • For the United States: A nation at war is justified in taking steps to insure the success of its effort to defend itself. The case involves congressional draft policy, not the 1st Amendment. Statements critical of the government cannot be tolerated in a crisis. The nation cannot allow an effort to deprive the armies of necessary soldiers. The actions and words of the Socialist party were a danger to the nation. The Espionage and Sedition acts, by contrast, were legitimate and appropriate in a time of war.