Libel vs. Freedom of Speech

Among any given group of people, you will find a variety of opinions on everything from politics to popular culture. Social media, as well as newspapers and other written publications offer us the opportunity to voice these opinions as well as our thoughts on people who either do not agree with us or do things differently than how we would do them ourselves. While the United States Constitution protects our rights to free speech, there are times when the things others say or put in writing about us can cause serious damage to our reputation, and in some cases, personal injuries that threaten our emotional or physical health.

First Amendment Rights

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” According to the First Amendment Center, a leading source for information and commentary on issues relating to the First Amendment, it is a key element in supporting personal freedoms while maintaining an open society, protecting more than just freedom of speech, but also protecting freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and the right to assemble and petition authorities. While most of us agree that these are all good things, there are protections offered under the First Amendment that many people debate, such as flag burning, profane and vulgar song lyrics, pornography, and hate speech.

Law on Libel and Defamation

While the First Amendment gives us the right to say what we want, when it involves other people it can get sticky. According to the State Bar in some states–like Oregon, for example–the Constitution does not allow you to make false statements, either verbally or in writing, that do damage to another’s reputation. These types of false statements are known as defamation, with slander being untrue comments made verbally, while libel are those falsehoods or smears that are put in writing. Libel as well as slander is against the law, and the person making false or misleading statements could be held legally liable for any damages that result. Examples of the types of injuries and damages caused by false statements include the following:

  • Loss of business income or assets;
  • Loss of admittance to social or academic clubs and institutions;
  • Physical injuries resulting from violence and assaults provoked by false information;
  • Emotional trauma as the result of false comments, including anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

Reach Out for Professional Assistance

If you or a loved one has suffered injuries or damages as the result of false and defamatory statements made about or against you, contact our experienced Portland personal injury attorneys today.


Thanks to our friends and blog authors from Johnston Law Firm for their insight into the differences between libel and freedom of speech.