Communications Department

Perspectives on Free Speech and Democracy

Mar 1, 1997 | Free Speech Issues

“Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”

— First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

“What we have is two important values in direct conflict: freedom of speech and our desire for healthy campaigns in a healthy democracy. You can’t have both.”

— Congressman Richard Gephardt, Democratic Leader, U.S. House of Representatives, Time magazine, Feb. 3, 1997, page 25

“For the distinction between discussion of issues and candidates and advocacy of election or defeat of candidates may often dissolve in practical application. Candidates, especially incumbents, are intimately tied to public issues involving legislative proposals and governmental actions…. [T]he concept that government may restrict the speech of some elements of our society in order to enhance the relative voice of others is wholly foreign to the First Amendment, which was designed to secure the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources…. In the free society ordained by our Constitution it is not the government, but the people — individually as citizens and candidates and collectively as associations and political committees — who must retain control over the quantity and range of debate on public issues in a political campaign.”

— U.S. Supreme Court, Buckley v. Valeo (1976)


“Material that simply states unbiased and objective facts about political or legislative matter would not constitute express advocacy and would fall outside the scope of campaign finance. However, material that is written in such a way that the recipient is left with the clear impression that the material advocates support or defeat of a particular political candidate or party– even without naming that candidate or party– would constitute express advocacy and would fall under the scope of campaign expenditure laws.”

— HR 600 author Rep. Sam Farr (D-Ca.), Roll Call, Jan. 9, 1997

“Hong Kong people will have full freedom of expression, but all freedoms must be within the limits allowed by law.”

— Chen Guofang, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, regarding impending revisions in freedom of speech laws for Hong Kong

Categories: Free Speech Issues