Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire
315 U.S. 568 (1942)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568 (1942)

Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire

No. 255

Argued February 5, 1942

Decided March 9, 1942

315 U.S. 568

Syllabus

1. That part of c. 378, § 2, of the Public Law of New Hampshire which forbids under penalty that any person shall address "any offensive, derisive or annoying word to any other person who is lawfully in any street or other public place," or "call him by any offensive or derisive name," was construed by the Supreme Court of the State, in this case and before this case arose, as limited to the use in a public place of words directly tending to cause a breach of the peace by provoking the person addressed to acts of violence.

Held:

(1) That, so construed, it is sufficiently definite and specific to comply with requirements of due process of law. P. 315 U. S. 573.

(2) That, as applied to a person who, on a public street, addressed another as a "damned Fascist" and a "damned racketeer," it does not substantially or unreasonably impinge upon freedom of speech. P. 315 U. S. 574.

(3) The refusal of the state court to admit evidence offered by the defendant tending to prove provocation and evidence bearing on the truth or falsity of the utterances charged is open to no constitutional objection. P. 315 U. S. 574.

2. The Court notices judicially that the appellations "damned racketeer" and "damned Fascist" are epithets likely to provoke the average person to retaliation, and thereby cause a breach of the peace. P. 315 U. S. 574

91 N.H. 310, 18 A.2d 754, affirmed.

APPEAL from a judgment affirming a conviction under a state law denouncing the use of offensive words when addressed by one person to another in a public place.

Page 315 U. S. 569

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Primary Holding

The First Amendment does not protect fighting words, which are those that inherently cause harm or are likely to result in an immediate disturbance.