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What Is Symbolic Speech?


There exist different types of communication in order for people to convey or relay their thoughts, feelings, or other forms of messages. One such type involves the expression of an idea, concept, or ideology through nonverbal means. This is referred to as symbolic speech.


Because symbolic speech is a form of communication or free speech, it is considered to be guaranteed and protected by the constitutional law. However, symbolic speech is not directly expressed or stated within the body of constitutional law. This is possibly due to the fact that during the creation of constitutional law, the main and recognized modes of communication were primarily verbal. Thus, constitutional law expressly protects free speech in terms of speaking, writing, and the press, but such a law also encompasses the use of symbols, art, and other nonverbal forms of speech.


An example of symbolic speech would be flag burning, which has been dismissed by the Supreme Court in several cases as constitutional and has rebuked laws created against it. This is due to fact that such laws infringe upon the constitutional right of the people to express themselves through the mode of symbolic speech.


Laws pertaining to symbolic speech are to be value neutral in nature and pertain only to the behavior expressed rather than the idea or value behind it. For example, burning of a draft card is considered illegal since it obstructs the administration of a draft. However, burning a copy of a draft card is considered to be symbolic speech and is protected by the constitutional law.

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