Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Writer's Guide to the First Amendment: Proceed with Caution

If you’ve been following my 2014 posts, you know that the First Amendment is not a “get out of jail free” card. It’s a priceless freedom, and I’m grateful for it. But if you don’t understand its limits, you could find yourself liable for damages and attorneys’ fees.

Contrary to what some people believe, the First Amendment does not allow you to say (or write) whatever you want. Its protections are designed to promote open discussion, but it does not authorize anarchy.

As a writer, the First Amendment can work for you or against you. It can work for you if you want to engage in a robust public debate without having to check and double-check every fact for accuracy. It can work against you if you expect it to protect you from statements you don’t believe yourself. (See my June 26, 2014 and July 24, 2014 posts.)

It can work for you if you bring your arguments into a public forum at a reasonable time and place and in a reasonable manner. It can work against you if you take those arguments onto private property or act in a way that disturbs the peace. (See my March 27, 2014 post.)

It can work for you if you honor the copyright and trademark laws. It can work against you if you ignore those laws.

Yes, the First Amendment protects most speech. But it doesn’t protect everything.*

So how can you ensure that it works for you? While there are no guarantees, here are my best suggestions:

  • Do your homework. If you still have doubts about the truthfulness of the information, turn off the computer and put down the pen.
  • Make your arguments in a public place or to a willing audience. Don’t force anyone to listen.
  • Learn how copyrights and trademarks work, and don’t infringe on the owners’ rights. (Watch for future posts on these issues.)


*There are several other types of unprotected speech that Christians are unlikely to engage in. See my April 24, 2014 post for more information.


Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. Her most recent book, Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal (KP/PK Publishing 2013), is a Kirkus’ Indie Books of the Month Selection. Kathryn is also the author of In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion (FaithWalk Publishing 2006) and numerous articles. You can learn more about Kathryn at

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