Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Speech Definition:

The expression of an idea in circumstances where it is likely that the message would be understood.

Related Terms: First Amendment, Freedom of Expression, Heckler's Veto

An element of law essential to constitutional and human rights protection of freedom of speech (eg. the First Amendment to the United States Constitution) or of expression.

The question, then, was bound to be raised in law: what is speech?

In State v Immelt, Justice Grosse of the Washington Court of Appeals wrote:

"Although the First Amendment protects only speech, conduct may be sufficiently imbued with elements of communication to fall within the ambit of the First Amendment.

"Courts, however, have rejected the view that any conduct can be labeled speech whenever the actor intends to express an idea. For such conduct to be considered protected speech the actor must have the intent to convey a particularized message in circumstances where it is likely that the message would be understood.

"To determine whether conduct is speech, one must look at the conduct that actually occurred and the context in which it occurred.

"Conduct is expressive when the actor intends to communicate a particular message by his actions and that message will be understood by those who observe it because of the surrounding circumstances."

In Jordan, Justice Higginbotham of the United States Court of Appeals wrote:

"[S]peech, as we have come to understand that word when used in our First Amendment jurisprudence, extends to many activities that are by their very nature nonverbal. But, whatever its source, there must be some outward manifestation...."

Thus, in Hilton, a greeting card was taken to be speech for the purposes of extending First Amendment protection.

In Goedart, the supportive honking of a car's horn towards protestors was speech.


  • Goedart v City of Ferndale, 596 F. Supp. 2d 1027 (Michigan, 2008)
  • Hilton v. Hallmark Cards, 599 F. 3d 894 (California, 2010)
  • Jordan v. Ector County, 516 F. 3d 290 (2008)
  • State v Immelt, 208 P. 3d 1256 (2008)

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