Etiquette for E-mail lists: the Freedom of Speech issue

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This summary is by a non-lawyer for non-lawyers, and is intended to provide the reader with intuitions about why the dividing line has been drawn where it has.


Basic Differentiation

Junk FAX


As with Junk FAX, this is judged to be unprotected speech because of the burden imposed on the audience.
The imposition of having to answer the phone is fundamentally different from passing within hearing range of "the man on a soapbox.". You have to

Meetings: Agendas and Procedures

I know of no serious legal challenge to the right of groups to constrain speech in meetings through the use of agendas and procedural rules, for example, Robert's Rules of Order. (Individual rules may be challenged, but that is a different matter).

E-mail Lists (circa 2002, needs updating)

An e-mail list involves a combination of characteristics of the above situations (otherwise, I wouldn't have wasted your time reading them).


Rules of civility are not a violation of free-speech. Free speech is about expressing ideas, and not a license to say whatever you want wherever you want. Just as yelling "fire" in a crowded theater does not constitute free speech, neither does verbal behavior that impinges on the rights of others to participate. If confrontational and/or verbally abusive behavior has the effect of intimidating others or driving them out of the forum, it is not a violation of free speech to discipline those engaging in such behavior.

Parting advice - Editorial

My experience is that respect for free-speech is so deeply embedded in American culture that virtually all claims of free-speech violations are bogus. People who legitimately believe that they should not be denied the opportunity to speak in a particular forum argue based upon the facts of the particular situation. If someone resorts to citing the principle of free-speech, my experience it is a good sign that that either they know that their action is inappropriate or they don't care about appropriateness and the rights of the audience.
Flame on
People who claim their free-speech rights are being violated are almost invariably arrogrant, self-righteous, self-absorbed, and/or abusive. It is pointless to try to reason with them: other people's rights are simply irrelevant to them.
Flame off
I am willing to accept corrections of fact and suggestions on how to improve the presentation of this information.
Be warned: I am not a willing audience for debate or advocacy on this topic: I am reporting widely accepted decisions, and not taking the role of an advocate.

Version Info: $Revision: 1.11 $ $Date: 2002/03/10 07:59:44 $

Copyright 2000 by Douglas B. Moran
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