On the Internet, Everything Seems Like Shouting “Fire” in a Crowded Theater

Source: The Atlantic
by Jeff Kosseff

Shouting ‘Fire’ in a crowded theater, a metaphor that dates to a 1919 Supreme Court ruling by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., is widely — and wrongly — held to be a far-reaching exception to the First Amendment, which offers broad protection to free expression in the United States. Courts have rigorously scrutinized government acts that might plausibly conflict with the amendment. But in common usage, shouting ‘Fire’ in a crowded theater has become an all-purpose justification for regulating speech while evading judicial scrutiny. … The phrase originated in a case that did not involve yelling or fires or crowds or theaters. Charles T. Schenck, the general secretary of the U.S. Socialist Party, was convicted in a Philadelphia federal court for violating the Espionage Act by printing leaflets that criticized the military draft as unconstitutional.” (01/04/22)