A foundation rule of the American group is that its laws must be compatible with the Constitution of the United States. This means our laws about expression must be consistent with the letter and purposes of the First Amendment. A great deal, therefore, hinges on what the First Amendment means. The Supreme Court has the final say, and its understanding of the First Amendment has changed over time. Our understanding of what the authors of the First Amendment may have intended it to mean has also changed.
The First Amendment did not spring suddenly from the pages of the Constitution, however. It is a historical point in a much larger conversation within Western political philosophy about what a good society is and how it can be achieved.
Discussions about expressive limits require assumptions about what human nature is like, whether or not truth exists, how knowledge is created, what society is for, and the proper relationship between the group and the individuals who comprise it. Discussions about these issues are centuries old. We shall examine the implications of different answers for notions about the purpose and limits of expression.
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