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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Whittington, “Speak Freely”

9780691181608It’s odd that free speech is becoming a conservative value. There was a time when progressives championed free speech, in order to challenge middle-class conventions, and conservatives argued for restrictions in the interest of decency and tradition. As progressives have taken charge of institutions they once protested, however, the positions have reversed. Many progressives now seek to limit speech, for example, in order to protect campus minorities from religiously-motivated “hate speech,” and conservatives call for robust, wide open debate. Life can be funny, sometimes. Of course, some old-fashioned, classical liberals have maintained their commitment to free speech throughout, though it does seem their numbers are dwindling.

A new book from Princeton political scientist Keith Whittington, Speak Freely: Why Universities Must Defend Free Speech (Princeton), argues that universities, in particular, should maintain the commitment to free speech. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Free speech is under attack at colleges and universities today, with critics on and off campus challenging the value of open inquiry and freewheeling intellectual debate. Too often speakers are shouted down, professors are threatened, and classes are disrupted. In Speak Freely, Keith Whittington argues that universities must protect and encourage free speech because vigorous free speech is the lifeblood of the university. Without free speech, a university cannot fulfill its most basic, fundamental, and essential purposes, including fostering freedom of thought, ideological diversity, and tolerance.

Examining such hot-button issues as trigger warnings, safe spaces, hate speech, disruptive protests, speaker disinvitations, the use of social media by faculty, and academic politics, Speak Freely describes the dangers of empowering campus censors to limit speech and enforce orthodoxy. It explains why free speech and civil discourse are at the heart of the university’s mission of creating and nurturing an open and diverse community dedicated to learning. It shows why universities must make space for voices from both the left and right. And it points out how better understanding why the university lives or dies by free speech can help guide everyone—including students, faculty, administrators, and alumni—when faced with difficult challenges such as unpopular, hateful, or dangerous speech.

Timely and vitally important, Speak Freely demonstrates why universities can succeed only by fostering more free speech, more free thought—and a greater tolerance for both.

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Masterpiece Cakeshop Explained

For those who are interested, I’ve done a short video for the Federalist Society explaining the arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop, the gay wedding cake case, which will be argued tomorrow at the Supreme Court. The link to the video is below:

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Greenawalt, “When Free Exercise and Nonestablishment Conflict”

In May, Harvard University Press will release When Free Exercise and Nonestablishment Conflict by Kent Greenawalt (Columbia University). The publisher’s description follows:

When Free Exercise and Nonestablishment ConflictThe First Amendment to the United States Constitution begins: “Congress shall make no law reflecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Taken as a whole, this statement has the aim of separating church and state, but tensions can emerge between its two elements—the so-called Nonestablishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause—and the values that lie beneath them.

If the government controls (or is controlled by) a single church and suppresses other religions, the dominant church’s “establishment” interferes with free exercise. In this respect, the First Amendment’s clauses coalesce to protect freedom of religion. But Kent Greenawalt sets out a variety of situations in which the clauses seem to point in opposite directions. Are ceremonial prayers in government offices a matter of free exercise or a form of establishment? Should the state provide assistance to religious private schools? Should parole boards take prisoners’ religious convictions into account? Should officials act on public reason alone, leaving religious beliefs out of political decisions? In circumstances like these, what counts as appropriate treatment of religion, and what is misguided?

When Free Exercise and Nonestablishment Conflict offers an accessible but sophisticated exploration of these conflicts. It explains how disputes have been adjudicated to date and suggests how they might be better resolved in the future. Not only does Greenawalt consider what courts should decide but also how officials and citizens should take the First Amendment’s conflicting values into account.

Shiffrin, “What’s Wrong with the First Amendment?”

In November, Cambridge University Press will release “What’s Wrong with the First Amendment?” by Steven Shiffrin (Cornell University).  The publisher’s description follows:

What is Wrong with the First Amendment? argues that the US love affair with the First Amendment has mutated into free speech idolatry. Free speech has been placed on soWhat's Wrong with the First Amendment high a pedestal that it is almost automatically privileged over privacy, fair trials, equality and public health, even protecting depictions of animal cruelty and violent video games sold to children. At the same time, dissent is unduly stifled and religious minorities are burdened. The First Amendment benefits the powerful at the expense of the vulnerable. By contrast, other Western democracies provide more reasonable accommodations between free speech and other values though their protections of dissent, and religious minorities are also inadequate. Professor Steven H. Shiffrin argues that US free speech extremism is not the product of broad cultural factors, but rather political ideologies developed after the 1950s. He shows that conservatives and liberals have arrived at similar conclusions for different political reasons.

Greenawalt, “From the Bottom Up: Selected Essays”

I’m delighted to post this notice for a new book of essays by my old master, Kent From the Bottom UpGreenawalt: From the Bottom Up: Selected Essays. These previously published and newly collected essays span Kent’s writing life and do an excellent job of conveying his immense and broad erudition. They cover topics including the bases of law (public reasons, natural law, religious reasons, and so on); law and objectivity; and several subject specific inquiries (in criminal law, law and religion, and speech law).

As a compendious but complete introduction to Kent’s thought, you cannot do better. I was honored to provide this book blurb:

A crucial book for understanding the mind of one of the great legal scholars of our time. Kent Greenawalt’s core insight, developed over a scholarly life and across several disciplines, is that the law is best understood inductively–not by drawing hard dividing lines between legal concepts and categories but instead by asking careful questions about how the law works itself out in the real world.

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