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R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul

Fighting Words

In a 1941 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court defined "fighting words" as words that "by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace." It further held that such speech is not entitled to protection under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The decision in R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul hinged on how broadly and under what criteria a local government can define "fighting words."

In St. Paul, Minnesota, the local government enacted a law, the Bias-Motivated Crime Ordinance. It banned the display of symbols and objects which offend others on the basis of race, color, creed, religion, or gender. A white teenager challenged the law after he and two others were charged with burning a cross on the lawn of a black family. The teenager claimed that the law was too broadly drawn and violated his right to free speech. He first took his case to a state trial court.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1989 to 1994R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul - Fighting Words, The Lower Court's Rule, The Supreme Court Rules, Further Readings