Legal Principle at Issue
Does the First Amendment protect people’s right to say things that make other people so angry that it may lead them to cause unrest?
Reversed. The Court found the “breach of the peace” ordinance to be unconstitutional.
When Arthur Terminiello delivered a speech in an auditorium in Chicago, the auditorium was filled to capacity with over eight hundred people. Outside of the speech, almost one thousand people gathered to protest the speech. Although police were assigned there to maintain order, they could not prevent several disturbances. In his speech, Terminiello condemned the conduct of the crowd outside and criticized various political and racial groups whose activities he denounced as harmful to the nation’s welfare. Terminiello was found guilty of disorderly conduct under a Chicago city ordinance prohibiting “breach[es] of the peace” and subsequently fined.
Importance of Case
The Court held that the First Amendment protects the right to make comments that are so controversial that they may stir a crowd into anger. The Court set a high bar for public comments to be considered so disruptive to public order that it can be limited.