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Chaplinksy v New Hampshire October 1942 it infringed upon his 1st Amendment and 14th Amendment rights to free
speech. He stated that it placed an unreasonable restraint on freedom of speech,
Murphy J. freedom of the press, and freedom of worship.
CASE: Appeal from a judgment affirming a conviction under the state law
denouncing the use of offensive words when addressed by one person to SC of New Hampshire affirmed the conviction. Hence this appeal.
another in a public place.
WON New Hampshire's Offensive Conduct law (chap. 378, para. 2 of the NH.
FACTS: Public Law) contravenes 1st Amendment and 14th Amendment.
November 1941, Sat afternoon, Walter Chaplinsky, a Jehovah's Witness, was at a Held: No. The challenged statute, on its face and as applied, doe not contravene
sidewalk in downtown Rochester, passing out his sect's pamphlets and “was said the 1st and 14th Amendment.
(by the local citizenry) to be calling organized religion a 'racket.'”
(1) Appellant assails the statute as a violation of all three freedoms, speech,
After a large crowd had begun blocking the roads and starting to cause a scene, a press and worship, but only an attack on the basis of free speech is warranted.
police officer removed Chaplinsky to take him to police headquarters. The spoken, not the written, word is involved. Cursing a public officer is not an
exercise of religion in any sense of the term.
Upon seeing the town marshal Bowering (who had returned to the scene after
warning Chaplinsky earlier to keep it down and avoid causing a commotion), (2) It is well understood that the right of free speech is not absolute at all times
Chaplinsky attacked the marshal verbally. He was then arrested. and under all circumstances.

The complaint against Chaplinsky stated that he shouted: "You are a God- (3) The statute is narrowly drawn and limited to define and punish specific
damned racketeer" and "a damned Fascist". conduct lying within the domain of state power, the use in a public place of
words likely to cause a breach of the peace.
Chaplinsky's version State court:
When he met Bowering, he asked him to arrest the ones responsible for the • the statute's purpose was to preserve the public peace, no words being
disturbance. In reply, Bowering cursed him and told him to come along. "forbidden except such as have a direct tendency to cause acts of
violence by the persons to whom, individually, the remark is addressed."
Chaplinsky admitted that he said the words charged in the complaint, with the • The word "offensive" is not to be defined in terms of what a particular
exception of the name of the deity. addressee thinks. . . . The test is what men of common intelligence
would understand would be words likely to cause an average addressee
He was charged and convicted under a New Hampshire statute preventing to fight
intentionally offensive speech being directed at others in a public place. Under
New Hampshire's Offensive Conduct law (chap. 378, para. 2 of the NH. Public (4) The statute does not unreasonably impinges upon the privilege of free
Laws) it is illegal for anyone to address "any offensive, derisive or annoying speech. Argument is unnecessary to demonstrate that the appellations "damned
word to anyone who is lawfully in any street or public place ... or to call him by racketeer" and "damned Fascist" are epithets likely to provoke the average
an offensive or derisive name." person to retaliation, and thereby cause a breach of the peace.
Chaplinsky appealed, claiming that the law was "vague and indefinite" and that