Freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Constitution is nearly absolute. That is, in most instances it cannot be regulated. However, in some circumstances restrictions are needed. In deciding whether or not to limit freedom of expression in these situations, the following questions should be considered.
Where is the speech taking place? Is it a public place or a private place? For instance, if I am speaking at a designated public forum, such as a school board meeting or on the steps of a courthouse, my speech cannot be restricted for content. However, if my speech were to foreseeably disturb or alarm the public, such as incite a riot, then my speech can and obviously should be regulated. This situation would constitute disturbing the peace and subject me to criminal prosecution. Conversely, speaking privately with someone is quite different. If I call an individual African-American a nigger, I am legally within my right to do so. Freedom of expression includes the right to be an asshole, but if I walk down the streets of Harlem and make the same remarks, I could reasonably start a riot, and so here my speech should be sanctioned. Hence, the location of a speaker has much to do with whether or not the content of expression should be limited.
Just as the location of the speech affects the possible restrictions, so too does the purpose or intent of the speaker. If I wrongfully accuse someone in order to publicly embarrass them, I can be charged with malice or slander, but speaking truth or an opinion is fine as long as it is done peacefully. Consequently, Americans have the right to peacefully assemble. While on public property, freedom of expression is absolute unless the speaker intently or foreseeably disturbs the peace.
Another question toward freedom of expression on public property is: Who is the audience, and who may be affected? Speech always affects someone, and when it is a group such as children, then certainly speech should be limited and the group, therefore, protected. This statement would also include television and radio. If children are believed to be watching or listening, cursing should be excluded from programming. Children represent a group that provides a strong interest; so speech must be limited in their presence.
I grant that not all cases are as simple as that with children or even the other cases that I have presented. Nonetheless, in order to determine whether or not to limit freedom of expression one should consider: Where is the speech taking place? What is the purpose of the speech? Who may be affected? If and when restrictions are deemed necessary, the restriction should be only enough to prevent the obstruction of other rights,
keeping in mind that freedom of expression is near absolute. Limiting expression is a
balancing act. The right to free speech must be weighed along with the other rights it may obstruct. Then, if needed, restrictions should be applied to balance the scale. Any limits further than those already provided by the government should be set forth in a guarded and careful manner, with a watchful eye toward the implications that accompany Constitutional rights.