What Is Symbolic Speech?


Quick Answer

Symbolic speech is a form of expression involving unspoken actions meant to convey ideas. It is protected by the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution under the freedom of speech provision. Examples include peaceful protests such as sit-ins or marches, flag burning and wearing politically motivated clothing.

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Two major cases helped interpret the right to symbolic speech: Texas v. Johnson and Tinker v. Des Moines. In Texas v. Johnson, the court decided that state laws banning the burning of the American flag were unconstitutional, as they infringed on a citizen's right to symbolic speech. In Tinker v. Des Moines, the court decided that student suspensions for wearing anti-Vietnam War armbands to school also infringed on the right to symbolic speech.

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