Joel Dillard

Representing Mississippi Workers



Free Speech under the Mississippi Constitution

The freedom of speech and of the press shall be held sacred according to the Mississippi Constitution, Art. 3 Sec. 13. This is the strongest free-speech language I am aware of in any law anywhere. This language is far stronger than the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states only that Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech. As discussed in a past blog post, the Courts have interpreted the language Congress shall make no law as limiting the First Amendment to state action.

But the Mississippi Constitution may not be limited to actions of the government. It says, flatly, that this freedom shall be held sacred, and presumably this means it shall be held sacred by everyone. If true, the implications of this could be staggering - unthinkable even. Certainly it is an interpretation well worth serious consideration.

Yet this language has been quoted only about ten times by the courts since 1950. Some of the discussion in the cases suggests support for the idea, e.g, They are not idle and meaningless terms, but signify philosophical concepts of a constitutional republic and of the intellectual independence of every citizen. Evers v. State, 131 So. 2d 653 (Miss. 1961). But the courts have rarely - if ever - deliberately distinguished this broader language in the Mississippi Consitution from the federal First Amendment. They have only said, in passing, that We are of the opinion, without deciding, that Article 3, Section 13, supra, by modern-day standards, appears to be more protective of the individual's right to freedom of speech than does the First Amendment since our constitution makes it worthy of religious veneration.ABC Interstate Theatres, Inc. v. State, 325 So. 2d 123 (Miss. 1976). Accord Gulf Pub. Co., Inc. v. Lee, 434 So. 2d 687 (Miss. 1983).

Perhaps it is an idea whose time is coming.

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