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Free speech: Some First Amendment landmarks

The First Amendment right to free speech is the most widely understood US constitutional provision.

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1947: The Supreme Court upheld a New Jersey law that allows all parents – including those sending their children to parochial schools – to receive government reimbursement for bus transportation to and from school. The 5-to-4 decision set the stage for future debate over how high the “wall” should be separating church and state. The case is also the first time the high court enforced the protections of the First Amendment’s religion clause against state governments rather than just the federal government.
1962: The Supreme Court struck down an attempt by New York school officials to develop a neutral, nondenominational prayer for schoolchildren. The court ruled that any kind of prayer composed by public school districts, even nondenominational prayer, is unconstitutional government sponsorship of religion.
1963: The Supreme Court found Bible reading and prayer in school unconstitutional because its primary effect is to advance religion in violation of the First Amendment’s prohibition of an establishment of religion.
1980: The Supreme Court struck down a Kentucky law authorizing the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools. The court ruled that it violated the First Amendment because it had no secular legislative purpose.
1992: The high court ruled that a prayer offered by a rabbi at a high school graduation ceremony violated the First Amendment’s establishment clause because it created coercive pressure for the graduates and their guests to participate in a religious activity.
2000: A prayer delivered by a student prior to a high school football game in Texas was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, which said it amounted to an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.
2005: In a mixed decision, the Supreme Court ruled that a Ten Commandments display be removed from a Kentucky courthouse, but decided that a six-foot-tall Ten Commandments monument outside the Texas Capitol could remain. The Kentucky display crossed the line as an unconstitutional endorsement and entanglement with religion, the court said, while the Texas display was part of a larger secular grouping of historic monuments.

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1964: In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court made it significantly harder for public officials or public figures to successfully sue a news organization for libel. Under the test established in New York Times v. Sullivan, a public figure may prevail only if the news organization knew the challenged statement was false or acted in reckless disregard of the accuracy of the statement.