Cross Burning as Hate Speech Under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution

Wilson R. Huhn


Cross burning is a particularly vicious form of “hate speech.” Some American states and cities have enacted laws prohibiting cross burning, and in two cases (R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul (1992) and Virginia v. Black (2003)) the United States Supreme Court has issued decisions regarding the constitutionality of those laws. These cases establish the principle that under the First Amendment hate speech is not punishable as a crime unless the speaker intended to threaten another person or the speaker intended to incite an imminent act of violence. Furthermore, the cases reinforce the principle that under the First Amendment a person may be convicted of a expressive crime only if the law under which the defendant was charged is narrowly drawn to prohibit only “unprotected” speech.


Freedom of Speech; cross burning; First Amendment

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Copyright (c) 1970 Wilson R. Huhn

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