Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Political Speech Definition:

Expressions which comment on government action rather than the private conduct of an individual.

Related Terms: Freedom of Expression

For the purposes of the sometimes protected freedom of expression as well as a defence against a claim for slander or libel, a communication may be branded political speech. Thus, the courts have been called upon to determine what the hallmarks of a political speech are.

In Wells v State of Indiana, Justice Barnes of the Court of Appeals of Indiana offered:

"The difficult question in this case is whether Wells' tirade following the stop by Trooper Brown constituted political speech. Expressive activity is political if its point is to comment on government action, including criticizing the conduct of an official acting under color of law.

"In contrast, where an individual's expression focuses on the conduct of a private party — including the speaker himself or herself - it is not political.

"Courts judge the nature of expression by an objective standard, and the burden is on the claimant to demonstrate that his or her expression would have been understood as political.

"If the expression, viewed in context, is ambiguous, a reviewing court should find that the claimant has not established that it was political and should evaluate the constitutionality of any state-imposed restriction of the expression under standard rationality review."


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