Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire

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Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire
Court Supreme Court of the United States
Date decided March 9, 1942
Appealed from New Hampshire Supreme Court


Chaplinsky, a Jehovah’s Witness, distributes religious literature in a public street. He also criticizes the beliefs of others who weren't Jehovah's Witnesses.

A crowd became hostile to Chaplinsky. Police direct Chaplinsky to leave the scene.

Chaplinsky insults City Marshal (police) in Bowering, New Hampshire.

Procedural History

Chaplinsky loses at every trial in New Hampshire including at the New Hampshire Supreme Court.


Chaplinsky's offensive language constituted "fighting words"; fighting words aren't protected by the First Amendment.


SCOTUS defines "fighting words" as words that provoke a violent reaction from listeners.


Future US court opinions haven't been uniformly consistent with this 1942 SCOTUS decision.