Ten Unlikely Free Speech Pioneers

By on December 6, 2011

The Society of Professional Journalists has a great article on "10 Improbable Champions of the First Amendment" that is a worthwhile read. Author George Padgett introduces readers to the people and situations behind the court decisions that led to our current understanding of Americans’ right to free speech:

What do an American Nazi, a pornographer and a homophobic Baptist minister have in common? A racist, anti-Semitic publisher? A flag-burning anarchist? A Communist Labor Party organizer?

They are among society’s misfits and hated targets of both the right and left. They are champions of the First Amendment. Disdained heroes. Their stories demonstrate the extreme challenge of living in and maintaining a democratic society. As Molly Ivins once said, "The thing about democracy, beloveds, is that it is not neat, orderly or quiet." 

From draft protesters to muckraking journalists, these are the people whose free speech rights the courts protected—and the reason the First Amendment protects your rights today.