Abrams, “The Soul of the First Amendment”

ccfdf983649ff2027e0abb1ddf4ffcdfIf you want to know about the law of religious freedom in the United States today, you have to know about free-speech doctrine as well: Many religious-freedom cases, including Masterpiece Cakeshop, which is currently before the Court, involve free speech as well as free exercise claims. And, in a development no one predicted a generation ago, free speech has gone from being a concern of the Left to a concern of the Right. Today, on campuses and increasingly in public life more broadly, it’s typically conservatives who insist on the right to speak, as against progressives who see free speech as a vehicle for oppression. These matters are no doubt discussed in a new book by Floyd Abrams, The Soul of the First Amendment, released last month by Yale University Press. I think of Abrams both as a progressive and a free-speech absolutist, which makes him a bit of an anomaly nowadays, and his views on today’s controversies will be very interesting. Here’s the description from the Yale website:

A lively and controversial overview by the nation’s most celebrated First Amendment lawyer of the unique protections for freedom of speech in America

The right of Americans to voice their beliefs without government approval or oversight is protected under what may well be the most honored and least understood addendum to the US Constitution—the First Amendment. Floyd Abrams, a noted lawyer and award-winning legal scholar specializing in First Amendment issues, examines the degree to which American law protects free speech more often, more intensely, and more controversially than is the case anywhere else in the world, including democratic nations such as Canada and England. In this lively, powerful, and provocative work, the author addresses legal issues from the adoption of the Bill of Rights through recent cases such as Citizens United. He also examines the repeated conflicts between claims of free speech and those of national security occasioned by the publication of classified material such as was contained in the Pentagon Papers and was made public by WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden.

 

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