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? We revisit this issue from a previous article of last year.

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?

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.

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

  1. I think as you get old you lose you taste for fire works displays. Seen one, seen ’em all. However, I do think it is a free speech issue. In my town one of the nondenominational churches puts on the show.

  2. Darren

    Thanks for interesting posts. Yesterday I read about the pollution and chemical residues associated with fireworks. Seems to me that these are factors that should be considered in regulating fireworks, along with noise issues, etc. Personally I’m with Nick in detesting fireworks.

    I disagree with Issac that fireworks never have anything to do with the First Amendment. It depends on the circumstances. Most of the time the “speech” element of fireworks will be insignificant. But there can be exceptions

  3. I don’t think fireworks has anything to do with free speech, or first amendment rights. But I am against banning them, and if people (like my Mother) can’t stand them, tough sh*t! The dogs and cats will get over the noise, and if the rationale is to save lives and prevent injuries, then let us look at the injuries each year:

    Hmmm. 11 dead in the whole year of 2014, and about 11,000 injuries. Most of which were treat and release stuff. There are more people killed by feral, savage blacks on a typical Chicago weekend. Gay sodomy kills about 13,000 people per year (which I believe is extremely under-counted.) and infects over 32,000 per year. They don’t get treated and released, but have to suffer with their illness the rest of their lives.

    Sooo, maybe we should keep stuff in proportion here.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  4. Yo Isaac,

    I am one of those progressive liberals but certainly not “anti freedom or politically correct” Careful with sweeping generalizations. And the majority of Progressives are Independents BTW.

  5. Jeez Daren, you are really scrounging here. Fireworks has absolutely nothing to do with free speech. It is a coming together of a dangerous and albeit enjoyable event with a moment in time for a society. Therefore it should be done by the society in a safe and controlled manner. It falls under what is and isn’t a danger to society as a whole. Of course Wayne the Peter would probably fight for the right to fire guns anywhere and everywhere, just as our forefathers prescribed and died for.

    If you want to be Turley’s lap dog on this free speech routine you should be up in arms and supporting the upcoming invasion of St. Kits for fining 50 cent for using the f word during a concert. Apparently these hopeless and hapless progressive liberal, anti freedom, politically correct, saps, don’t like to hear expletives yelled out during exhibitions of fine art by down trodden ethnic minorities. Poor 50 cent, poor freedom, and so on.

  6. Interesting article on quiet fireworks today in the NY Times:

    I enjoy attending large fireworks events, but I dislike fireworks being set off in neighborhoods – my cat is always terrified as they seem to go on and on the drunker people become. Just as he calms down yet another series will go off. Aside from the noise there is a problem with litter.

    I don’t see how this is a free speech right.

  7. I’m going to borrow from another portion of the First Amendment. One line of reasoning tthat was used 230 plus years ago to legally deny certain religions from entering the USA and to govern assemblies,. Peace and safery of the neighborhood or town or state or nation. That kept out any religions that used human sacrifice as one example. It provides the basis for not yelling fire in a crowded theater. Although fireworks as an expression of free speech especially on July 4th should be protected the act cannot at the same time disturb the peace and safety of an area.and it’s inhabitants. It is the reason for controlled pageantry as it both answers the fire danger issue and at the same time protects the expression of freedom and patriotism and is certainly more worthy of consideration than money as free speech which is limited to a few. “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. –” along with ‘peaceful assembly.” The founders were wordsmiths of great skill. One need look no further.

  8. It’s a free speech issue and to restrict fireworks is a limitation on First Amendment speech. However, no fundamental right is absolute (although I think the 2nd Amendment approaches it), and government has to have a good enough reason to regulate such speech. Health and safety concerns are considered such a reason if the limitation is narrowly tailored to those concerns and no other remedy will alleviate them.

    Yelling “Fire!” is a crowded theater is a free-speech issue, but obviously it has its limitations, too.

  9. No. Not every act is an act of speech. If it was, then no behavior could be regulated.

  10. That snark tag thing was directed to Mental Midget. There seems to be no way to tell who is responding to whom.

  11. Teach you son and daughter how to make a pipe bomb from the cherry bombs. It is a step up and we will need pipe bombs when the revolution time comes around in the second year of Trump.

  12. But there is another Clause of the First Amendment: the right to petition our government for redress of grievances. Our firework show is call attention from us to our state and federal elected officials and state and federal employees. We are telling them in an offhand way that if they do not get off their lame duck rear ends and do some work that we are going to blow up their mailboxes and wake them up with aerial bombs at 3 a.m..

  13. Explosions are, first, a phallic symbol, and second a glorification of war. They have nothing to do with an appreciation for one’s country and what it stands for. If you want to be patriotic, run for political office and work to benefit the public. Start out by banning fireworks.

  14. Wrong Constitutional Amendment is recited or promoted. It is the right to bear arms. This is from the Second Amendment. An aerial bomb is a weapon which I need to have and practice with. July 4th is as good a day as another.

  15. My eye doctor says fireworks are great business for his profession. He’s always on call this weekend.

  16. I HATE fireworks. As noted, they frighten dogs and make those w/ PTSD from combat have to cower in fear. Ban the mofo’s!! Firecracker noise is NOT speech.

  17. If it’s a free speech issue, then noise ordinances also infringe upon free speech. No, you have the right to speak whatever is on your mind. But you may not infringe upon my right to peace and quiet to do so. And I agree with the posters concerned about animals, and would add concern for veterans and others who may have PTSD. Given the fire dangers and that I call this “Pet Torture Weekend,” I am for banning fireworks.

    If they are free speech, what are you trying to say? “I enjoy scaring the crap out of you!”?

  18. The noise is hard on pets and other animals. Silent fireworks which do not start fires are likely to be alright.

    It is certainly not a free speech issue.

  19. Speaking more narrowly, areas that are susceptible to wildfire should have the ability to ban fireworks.

    Living in a densely wooded region, a longer-term lack of rain creates obvious conditions for runaway fires. The potential loss of both habitat and public/private property, and of course the personal risk to our fire departments, to me isn’t worth it. I don’t mind therefore ceding such a decision to local authorities.

    In areas where wildfires are less apparent, the question does remain murky.

  20. Those using fireworks should be aware of how their momentary ‘oohing and ahhhhing’ results in cruelty to animals. Many pets are lost and some literally die as a result of people’s selfish actions in shooting fireworks.

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