Fighting words


Fighting words

Fighting words are written or spoken words, generally expressed to incite hatred or violence and to place the targets of the words in danger of harm. Specific definitions, freedoms, and limitations of fighting words vary by jurisdiction. It is also used in a general sense of words which when uttered create (deliberately or not) a verbal or even physical confrontation by their mere usage.

Canada

In Canada, freedom of speech is generally protected under Section 2 of Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Criminal Code of Canada, however, limits these freedoms and provides for several forms of punishable hate speech. The form of punishable hate speech considered to encompass "fighting words" is identified in Section 319: [ [http://www.49thparallel.bham.ac.uk/back/issue13/brooks.htm Stephen Brooks, "Hate Speech and the Rights Cultures of Canada and the United States"] ]

United States

The fighting words doctrine, in United States constitutional law, is a limitation to freedom of speech as granted in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. In its 9-0 decision, "Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire" (1942), the U.S. Supreme Court established the doctrine and held that "insulting or 'fighting words,' those that by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace" are among the "well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech [which] the prevention and punishment of...have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem."

"Chaplinsky" decision

Chaplinsky, a Jehovah's Witness, had purportedly told a New Hampshire town marshal who was attempting to prevent him from preaching "You are a God-damned racketeer" and "a damned fascist" and was arrested. The court upheld the arrest and wrote in its decision that

Post-"Chaplinsky"

The court has continued to uphold the doctrine but also steadily narrowed the grounds on which fighting words are held to apply. In "Street v. New York" (1969) [http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0394_0576_ZS.html] , the court overturned a statute prohibiting flag-burning and verbally abusing the flag, holding that mere "offensiveness" does not qualify as "fighting words". Similarly, in "Cohen v. California" (1971), the fact that Cohen had been arrested for wearing a jacket that said "fuck the draft" did not constitute uttering fighting words since there had been no "personally abusive epithets."

In "R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul" (1992), the court overturned a statute prohibiting cross-burning on the grounds that the specific statute was overbroad; ie., that it risked proscribing lawful conduct. The Court, however, made it repeatedly clear that the City could have pursued "any number" of other avenues, and reaffirmed the notion that "fighting words" could be properly regulated by municipal or state governments.

References

External links

* [http://www.freedomforum.org/templates/document.asp?documentID=13718 What is the Fighting Words doctrine?] from freedomforum.org.
* [http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/faclibrary/libraryexpression.aspx?topic=fighting_words First Amendment Library entry on Fighting Words]


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • fighting words — fight·ing words n pl: words which by their very utterance are likely to inflict harm on or provoke a breach of the peace by the average person to whom they are directed ◇ Fighting words are not protected speech under the First Amendment to the… …   Law dictionary

  • fighting words — fighting talk or fighting words plural noun (informal) Spirited words issuing a challenge or provoking a fight • • • Main Entry: ↑fight …   Useful english dictionary

  • fighting words — ☆ fighting words n. Informal a remark that stirs up antagonism * * * …   Universalium

  • fighting words — ☆ fighting words n. Informal a remark that stirs up antagonism …   English World dictionary

  • fighting words — (also fighting talk) plural noun 1》 informal words indicating a willingness to fight. 2》 US insulting or provocative words, especially of an ethnic, racial, or sexist nature, considered unacceptable or illegal by certain institutions …   English new terms dictionary

  • fighting words — noun Aggressive words that forseeably may lead to potentially violent confrontation; in law, often considered mitigation for otherwise sanctionable behavior (fighting) …   Wiktionary

  • fighting words doctrine — The First Amendment doctrine that holds that certain utterances are not constitutionally protected as free speech if they are inherently likely to provoke a violent response from the audience. N.A.A.C.P. v. Clairborne Hardware Co., Miss., 458 U.S …   Black's law dictionary

  • fighting words doctrine — The First Amendment doctrine that holds that certain utterances are not constitutionally protected as free speech if they are inherently likely to provoke a violent response from the audience. N.A.A.C.P. v. Clairborne Hardware Co., Miss., 458 U.S …   Black's law dictionary

  • fighting talk — or fighting words plural noun (informal) Spirited words issuing a challenge or provoking a fight • • • Main Entry: ↑fight * * * fighting ˈtalk idiom comments or remarks that show that you are ready to fight very hard for sth • What we want from… …   Useful english dictionary

  • Fighting and Combat — Have you ever seen one of those old westerns when some grizzled and toothless saloon patron says them s fighting words ? Well, here they are all twenty one of them! These words, all very obscure, refer to fighting, combat or conflict, whether… …   Phrontistery dictionary


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