10 Things That Aren't Free Speech

Burning Draft Cards
Antiwar demonstrators burn their draft cards on the steps of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. during the Vietnam War. The Supreme Court ruled that burn a draft card is not protected speech. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Americans were very conflicted over the Vietnam War, with many opposed to the country's involvement. One such American, David O'Brien, registered his protest of the war by burning his draft card at a Boston courthouse. A jury later convicted him of breaking a federal law that prohibited burning or mutilating a draft card. He fought back, arguing that his conviction prohibited his freedom of speech. In 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court took up his case [source: Oyez].

Seven of the Court's nine justices agreed O'Brien was rightly convicted because the federal statute that forbids altering a draft card is a fair one. The justices said, in part, that the government can create statutes that further an important governmental interest, assuming that interest isn't related to free speech or its suppression. They also agreed that if a governmental regulation resulted in an incidental restriction on an alleged First Amendment freedom — such as the draft-card-burning situation — it's OK as long as the incidental restriction isn't any greater than necessary in order for the government to achieve its interest [source: Case Briefs].