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Does the U.S. Constitution generally require federal, state, and local governments to protect the free speech rights of people in public venues from infringement by private individuals?

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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 they have a measure of responsibility to protect the rights of all people from infringement by others, including the right of free speech. Hence, the Supreme Court ruled in 1911 that it is "the obligation of the government to protect life, liberty, and property against the conduct of the indifferent, the careless, and the evil-minded," and this obligation lies "at the very foundation of the social compact." 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."

DocumentationPrimary Purpose of GovernmentFree Speech Suppression

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