Free Vs. Hate speech...a clarification

Can words land us in hot water legally speaking? Yes, of course they can and no not all speech is protected under the First Amendment. 

Here are some examples of non-protected speech:  

Soliciting a Minor- This speech entails requesting sexual contact with someone under the age of consent by an adult.  Even if no physical action is taken, soliciting a minor can have serious legal ramifications which vary from state to state, some of which include but are not limited to: registering a sex offender, jail time and probation, under the condition of adhering to costly and time consuming rehabilitation programs which are more often than not expected to be paid for by the offender themselves.  Soliciting a minor online in written or verbal format (video or audio) is a felony, having a felony on your record cripples your ability to find employment.  For more on this subject:

Defamation, or the two-edged sword.

Slander (oral defamation) - this speech involves making false and disparaging statements about an individual which are damaging to their reputation.  Legal consequences in this case are not criminal, rather they are civil and can be resolved without incarceration, however the financial fallout of being found guilty of slander can be vast and devastating to the perpetrator.

Libel (written and or broadcast defamation) - as is the case with slander, this speech revolves around making false but also harmful statements about another individual.  This is also a tort case which means the dispute is resolved in civil court not criminal court.  The penalties are also financial in nature.  

For a more detailed description of this kind of unprotected speech please see:

Violating a Non-Disclosure Agreement or NDA - as the name clearly suggests a NDA is a legally-binding contract that prohibits two or more parties from divulging shared information.  These contracts are often drawn up to prevent corporate espionage, to protect intellectual property or to ensure a project remains secret until its intended release date.  The fallout for breaking contract is always stipulated within the contract itself, and are usually fiscally punitive to the party responsible for the rupture.  Always make sure to read everything you sign your name to diligently, regardless of the length of contract.  If you are not versed in legal jargon ask for a copy of the contract to take home to read over and enlist the assistance of a legal professional.  Better safe than sorry as the saying goes.   For a deeper look on the elements around NDA's please see:

Hate Speech - This is where we run into murky waters.  Hate speech is not easily definable in a legal sense, as there is no law on the books in the United States of America specifically structured around hate speech.  The US justice system is a common law system, meaning it is based on precedent.  In the absence of written legislation we turn to previously-concluded cases on the subject matter to guide us in deciding future cases. What the supreme court does have to say about this social term is the following. 

Justice Kennedy: 

A law found to discriminate based on viewpoint is an “egregious form of content discrimination,” which is “presumptively unconstitutional.” … A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all. The First Amendment does not entrust that power to the government’s benevolence. Instead, our reliance must be on the substantial safeguards of free and open discussion in a democratic society.

Justice Ailto: Matal V. Tam 2015

The idea that the government may restrict speech expressing ideas that offend … strikes at the heart of the First Amendment. Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express “the thought that we hate."

Justice Douglas: on Terminiello V. Chicago 1949

"Protected against censorship or punishment, unless shown likely to reduce a clear and present danger of a serious substantive evil that rises far above public inconvenience, annoyance, or unrest ... There is no room under our Constitution for a more restrictive view."

So does this mean hate speech is protected under the first amendment?  Not exactly.  What we can deduce from these and many other hate speech related cases is that they are determined on a case-by-case basis and there is no specific course of action in place to deal with hate speech. If and when hate speech crosses the threshold into harassment and verbal assault, it can significantly up the ante on the charges by adding hate crime to an indictment which can elevate a charge from a misdemeanor to a felony.   In addition, if your speech directly results in causing unlawful behavior such as a street fight or riot, it will fall under the "fighting words doctrine," which was set in motion by supreme court case Chaplinsky V. New Hampshire 1942.  This doctrine establishes that speech that instigates an "immediate breech of peace" is not protected under the first amendment and is a prosecutable offense.

In short, Hate Speech is a grey area.  Hate speech can aggravate other charges and stand on it's own if the speech is not only carried out in a discriminatory manner but a threatening one as well. 

So watch what you say and have an informed day.