Does Lighting Fireworks Constitute Free Speech?

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

180px-San_Diego_FireworksWe wish you a festive and joyful Independence Day and pose a question to you. Does the use of fireworks constitute protected free speech?

A tradition spanning multiple generations in the United States is that a large portion of our society celebrates and shows tribute to the United States through the lighting and observance of fireworks. Yet numerous municipalities and counties impose sweeping and total bans of fireworks. Some statutes regulate the type of firework allowable, such as those having a ferocity that safety requires certified technicians. Others ban benign devices such as snakes and small fountains.

But does a complete ban on fireworks regardless of size constitute an infringement on the first amendment rights of citizens?

Municipalities having such total bans often provide or at least facilitate public exhibitions of professional fireworks displays. An esoteric argument can be made that such locations may constitute an exclusive free-speech zone permitted by the state whereas the private celebrations and expressions on private property by individuals are not permitted.

The usual argument for fireworks prohibition is that fires result from their usage and the state has an interest in preventing accidents. But can the state argue that the danger is so inherent that all fireworks must be prohibited; thus removing this free speech right?

What do you think?

We offer the following poll and encourage your comments below.


The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.

34 thoughts on “Does Lighting Fireworks Constitute Free Speech?”

  1. I agree that reasonable restrictions should be placed on fireworks and that M80’s, cherry bombs and the like should be banned and anyone causing damage or injury should be prosecuted. However I grew up in Southern California and we used to use the “safe and sane” legal fireworks such as sparklers and small cones and never had any problems. I think that the government has gone too far in banning all fireworks.

  2. this area would be best regulated through content neutral certification and licensing requirements. Such restrictions face a lower level of constitutional scrutiny than the contents of speech (i.e., if fireworks are speech, the type and veracity of the fireworks).

  3. Olly:

    “Absolutely Karen, I second that. Happy 4th of July and if you haven’t ever done it before, read the Declaration of Independence. Make it a tradition that you read it to you your children and grandchildren at least once a year so they never forget why this day is so special.” That’s funny that you said that. The banner we had made for our wagon had a line from the Declaration of Independence on it. I think that’s a great tradition to read this document to your kids at least every year.


    SoCal, a high fire hazard state that has major wildfires each and every year. Hindu temples are subject to the same regulations as any other entity that wants to shoot off fireworks – permits, the fire department there, etc.


    I agree that fire hazard fireworks regulations need to be common sense.

  4. Gigi, Thanks. I learned who was shooting off the M-80’s. He did so until after midnight again last night. It’s a guy w/ a serious alcohol problem, and a real loser. Surprising?

  5. Maybe lighting a candle in church would be free speech. But not a firecracker, a cigarette, a cigar or a Confederate Flag.

    1. Beldar – according to Justice Kennedy and a majority of the SC, my right to dignity includes waving the Confederate flag.

  6. Just as I say drink responsibly…shoot fireworks responsibly. IT’S INDEPENDENCE DAY! ENJOY!!

    Sorry Nick, some folks are having too much fun to allow you to rest. I hope you got a good nights sleep after all.

  7. It’s 10:15pm local time and drunken Cheeseheads are still lighting off fireworks. Someone got a trunk full of M-80’s, it sounds like an invasion. Their kids probably will be eating mayo sandwiches the next month because daddy spent all the money on fireworks.

  8. Isaac, Bratwurst is considered sacramental in Wi. I prefer hot Italian sausage w/ roasted red peppers, but bratwurst, kraut, and coarse mustard is pretty damn good. The key w/ bratwurst is soaking them in simmering beer and onions after grilling, prior to putting on a bun.

  9. Penelope, Explosive comments are better than explosive bowel movements. Nice to see you here.

  10. Karen, I am willing to tolerate the knuckle draggers on July 4th. And, I realize it’s almost always a 3 day weekend so I will just go into my man cave @ night. Here’s the problem in cheapskate Wisconsin. After this weekend, fireworks go on sale for half price. This is the biggest cheapskate state in the Union. So, all these tightwad Cheesheads go out and spend the rent money on fireworks. That makes it fireworks season. They will be going off well into August around here. Not like this weekend, but every weekend and even some weeknights if Ole gets a belly full of Pabst.

  11. If lighting fireworks is “protected speech absolutely” then so also is starting a huge forest fire as performance art.

  12. Dust Bunny Q: I can’t agree with you more, It is free speech but should have guidelines. Sparklers and firecrackers are fine for the kids but the rockets and other types create danger to housetops in the cities and fires in the country side. If people want to see the beautiful ones and hear the huge booms, then find a city or town that has a display and go. Meanwhile let the little kids shoot off the sparklers and small fire crackers with an adult close by to supervise AFTER ALL IT IS A DAY OF CELEBRATION.

    DBQ: (You are so right),………”However, the regulations have gone too far, when even the most bland of fireworks are banned. There are always going to be dopes and drunken fools who will harm themselves with fireworks and all sorts of other activities. You can’t regulate stupidity out of existence.” ……………. You are spot on there. Nor can you stop idiots from climbing sheer rock cliffs, performing tricks on skateboards, racing 4-wheelers, and other dangerous teen and young adult past times. Are we going to ban all those activities, gosh, someone may get hurt., DON’;T YOU KNOW THAT IS INEVITABLE. Let them shoot off some fireworks but make sure they know the dangers they are imposing on neighbors, the yards, and possible loss of fingers or limbs.

    To impose a ban on all fireworks will only cause more mishaps as people will get them illegally and without the knowledge of how to handle the fireworks there are more mishaps. Teens will be teens, although, for safety sake, they need limitation as to the type of fireworks being shot off in the neighborhood. And certainly serenading the elderly couple next door should be taboo. After all, the 4th of July is a day of celebration and all should be free to celebrate without the nanny state breathing down their neck. IT IS CALLED EDUCATION AND RESPONSIBILITY WITH A FAIR AMOUNT OF LIMITATION TO THE TYPE OF FIREWORKS BEING SHOT OFF IN CROWDED AREAS.

    “If burning the American Flag is free speech, then setting off some fireworks to celebrate the American Flag and Independence Day are also free speech.” Only, moderate limitations in crowded neighborhoods.

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