"We admit that in many places and in ordinary times the defendants in saying all that was said in the circular would have been within their constitutional rights. But the character of every act depends upon the circumstances in which it is done . . . . The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic . . . . The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent."
This case explores the legal concept of freedom of speech.
During World War I, the United States instituted a military draft to build the military force it needed to succeed in the war. In 1917, the United States passed the Espionage Act making it a “...crime to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, refusal of duty, in the military” or to obstruct military recruiting.
Soon after the United States entered the war, Charles T. Schenck, a prominent member of the Socialist Party was arrested for mailing out 15,000 flyers encouraging draft-age men to sign petitions and actively engage against the military draft by raising their voices to Congress and the president. Schenck believed he was exercising his right to free speech by encouraging people to use their right to petition the government. In 1917 he was convicted of violating the Espionage Act and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The Supreme Court reviewed his case in 1919, upholding his conviction and the constitutionality of the Espionage Act.