Unprecedented tells the raw and emotional stories of ordinary people who defined the limits of our First Amendment rights. Hosted by award-winning radio producers Michael Vuolo and Matthew Schwartz with special appearances by NPR’s Nina Totenberg. You'll never think of the Constitution the same way again. From WAMU.


December 18, 2019 44 mins
Anthony Elonis wrote a series of Facebook posts describing gory fantasies of revenge, often in the form of rap lyrics, against his estranged wife and others. He was later convicted of violating a federal law that prohibits such threats and was sentenced to more than three years in prison. Elonis claimed he was merely venting and using an established art form, just like Eminem. And that the First Amendment protects violent speech. L...
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To a Klu Klux Klan member, a flaming cross is a "beautiful" symbol of "racial purity." To many Americans, it's the image of racist intimidation. But, what is it to the Supreme Court, and is it protected by the Constitution? In the emotionally-charged case, Virginia v. Black, the KKK learns the difference between intent and historical perception — with unexpected assistance from an African American ACLU lawyer. P...
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December 4, 2019 28 mins
Joe Frederick knew that students have some free speech rights, but he wanted to find out just how far those rights go. So when his high school class headed outside to watch the Olympic torch pass through their Alaska neighborhood in January 2002, Joe unfurled a 14-foot-banner that would test the limits of the First Amendment in school. Except...no one really understood what the banner meant, including Joe Frederick! If you love Un...
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November 20, 2019 33 mins
John and Mary Beth Tinker—teenagers in Iowa during the mid-1960s—wore black armbands to school one day as a symbolic protest against the Vietnam War. They were both suspended and later sued the Des Moines school district for violating their First Amendment rights. The armbands may seem mild compared to the vocal walkouts we see today. But at the time, it was described as "a disturbing situation within the schools." In this ...
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November 13, 2019 36 mins
When Albert Snyder arrived for the funeral service of his son Matthew, a young Marine who died in the Iraq War, he was surprised by the noise and chaos that greeted him. Seven members of the Westboro Baptist Church—which believes that U.S. military casualties are a result of God's anger at an America that embraces sin—were picketing the funeral, holding signs with messages like "Thank God for Dead Soldiers." Snyder sued...
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November 6, 2019 39 mins
When asked to pen some biting humor for the pages of Hustler back in 1983, writer Terry Abrahamson took aim at evangelical Christian preacher Jerry Falwell. The result was a vulgar parody of a real Campari ad—though instead of celebrities coyly talking about their "first time" tasting the Italian liqueur, Abrahamson wrote a fictional account of Falwell's first time having sex (SPOILER: it was in an outhouse, with his ow...
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October 30, 2019 41 mins
Emily Heiden was pregnant, panicked, and searching for advice. She found a clinic on the internet that promised medical guidance "without politics or hype," yet what she encountered was not what she expected. California lawmakers, concerned about the way religious pregnancy centers marketed their services, later passed a law requiring them to include information about abortions. But the centers sued, arguing that the First ...
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October 23, 2019 36 mins
Unprecedented begins with the story of a man who, nearly a half-century ago, committed a minor act of civil disobedience when he covered up the state motto on his license plate. Meet George Maynard, who battled New Hampshire over a slogan—Live Free or Die—that he found personally repugnant. His deeply held convictions would land him in jail, cost him his job, and carry him all the way to the Supreme Court. If you love Unprecedente...
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October 3, 2019 2 mins
A new podcast from WAMU introduces you to the accidental guardians of our First Amendment rights.
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