1

Is speech over amateur radio constitutionally protected?

Could I theoretically sue the FCC for the right to broadcast music on 20 meters, and have a chance of winning on free speech grounds?

If the FCC made a rule, at the direction of Congress, prohibiting political speech over amateur radio, would that be enforceable? What if the rule allowed promotion of party X but not party Y?

6
  • 2
    "Free speech" does not mean the unlimited right to say what you like, where you like, and how you like. It is the right to speak without fear of oppression by government (subject to decency laws etc.). However, political speech is discouraged over amateur radio anyway. Mar 25, 2023 at 22:41
  • 4
    @WeatherVane I see this response to First Amendment questions so often, but I never understand what the point is supposed to be. If people thought free speech meant "the unlimited right to say what you like, where you like, and how you like," they wouldn't ask questions asking what is and isn't protected speech.
    – bdb484
    Mar 26, 2023 at 23:53
  • 1
    I can say what I like, but not on public broadcast TV, as the TV station may decide to boot me off the air, because it is their frequency spectrum with their rules. I imagine it is a similar case for amateur radio. Note there may be other parts of the radio spectrum (CB, probably? whatever kids' walkie-talkies use?) where you can say literally whatever you want Mar 28, 2023 at 13:35
  • some countries arrest people for holding "stop killing the planet" signs in the middle of the road where they inconvenience planet-killing cars, but not for holding them on the sidewalk where they only inconvenience non-planet-killing bikes Mar 28, 2023 at 13:36
  • 1
    I am tempted to say that a "no political views" rules would not survive strict scrutiny analysis, and that distinguishes it from "no profanity" rule upheld in FCC vs. Pacifica Foundation. On the other hand, the government could assert many reasons for such a rule (avoid diplomatic incidents with non-US stations; prevent ham radio bands from becoming 24/7 political shouting matches; etc.). Good question!
    – KFK
    Mar 28, 2023 at 19:09

1 Answer 1

1

Is speech over amateur radio constitutionally protected?

Of course.

Could I theoretically sue the FCC for the right to broadcast music on 20 meters, and have a chance of winning on free speech grounds?

You can certainly sue. I don't know enough about existing jurisprudence to comment on the likelihood of success.

If the FCC made a rule, at the direction of Congress, prohibiting political speech over amateur radio, would that be enforceable? What if the rule allowed promotion of party X but not party Y?

Of course not.


The entire concept of regulation of telecommunications is in some tension with the first amendment, but the fact that the judiciary has upheld such regulation does not imply that telecommunications are beyond the reach of the first amendment. Instead, it means that the first amendment permits the regulation. Other regulation could still be found impermissible under the first amendment, as regulation prohibiting political speech or likely would and regulation giving preferential treatment to certain political parties certainly would.

3
  • Regulation of Telecommunications - esp. Radio and TV - is a classic "Time-Place-Manner" restriction, such as in Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U.S. 781 (1989). That was about sound amplification that blocked a show.
    – Trish
    Jul 12, 2023 at 11:13
  • also.... FCC v. National Citizens Committee, 436 U.S. 775 (1978), which upheld FCC regulations on selling ad time to political parties.
    – Trish
    Jul 12, 2023 at 11:24
  • So while obscenity is not constitutionally protected, my understanding is that indecent material is, so the prohibition on indecent transmissions is enforceable because there is a compelling governmental interest in forbidding indecent material on amateur radio?
    – Someone
    Jul 12, 2023 at 14:34

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .