Are federal, state, and local governments in the U.S. generally required to protect the free speech rights of people in public venues from infringement by private individuals?
The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires federal, state, and local governments to provide "equal protection of the laws" to all people in their jurisdictions. This means these governments have a measure of responsibility to protect the rights of all people from infringement by others, including the right of free speech. As explained in the Indiana Law Journal, "the fundamental reason for the existence of organized government" is to protect "lawful conduct" from "lawless" attacks upon it. Per the American Bar Association, if government were to suppress free speech because of the threat of violence, "a small number of lawless men by passing the word around that they intend to start a riot could prevent any kind of meeting.... The only proper remedy for such a situation, small or serious, is the police protection to which citizens are entitled, whether they are singly or in groups."
DocumentationFree Speech Suppression