CMCL-C 339: Freedom of Speech
Class Number: 33380
MW, 2:30 PM-3:45 PM, C2 203
Fulfills CASE A&H Requirement
Carries CASE Intensive Writing Credit
Instructor: Brian Amsden
No American today would care to stand against “freedom of speech.” As an ideological slogan, it carries as much weight as any other of those inalienable rights that define the great American experiment. What is often lost among reflections of our exceptionalism, however, is an appreciation of the complexity, richness, and contentiousness of this right. Freedom of speech is a relatively recent idea in western history, and it has taken on a great variety of meanings in that time. Today the meaning, scope, and priority of free speech remains hotly contested in the law courts and public generally. We question the value of angry and occasionally violent protests over health reform at town hall meetings. We disagree over the extent to which military and intelligence reports concerning torture should be made available to the public. We debate the value of campus speech codes that restrict the use of racist, sexist, and homophobic language. Always we hail “freedom of speech”; rarely do we agree as to what “freedom of speech” means.
This course aims to engage freedom of speech as a historical, philosophical, legal, and rhetorical concept. The first part of the course will examine the historical development of freedom of speech as well as the philosophical justifications for it. Contemporary disputes over free speech are influenced greatly by these justifications. A debate will turn out very differently depending on whether we value freedom of speech as a means to truth, as a method of individual self expression, as an alternative to political violence, or whatever. The second part of the course will examine the legal principles that determine what counts as constitutionally protected speech and what does not. While it is easy to think of free speech as an absolute right, the truth of the matter is that it is subject to a number of exceptions including libel, slander, fighting words, obscenity, indecency etc. Whether you intend to go on to graduate school, enter the business world, work for a non-profit, or just participate as a citizen in the public sphere, you will benefit from an awareness of the limits on constitutionally-protected journalism, advertising, entertainment media production, campaigning, or whatever. Finally, the third part of this course will analyze freedom of speech as a rhetorically mediated discourse. From a rhetorical perspective, the way that we talk about free speech has a lot to say about the public culture in which we live. Free speech is not just a legal matter; it is a public negotiation that aims to distinguish legitimate forms of public discourse from illegitimate forms.
The main text for the course is Tedford and Herbeck’s Freedom of Speech in the United States. This will be supplemented by a number of other readings, available through Oncourse, including John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, a number of Supreme Court decisions, and some critical readings coming from within and outside the legal profession. The primary assignments for the course include two exams, two position papers, and a team research project/presentation. Class discussion will be an important component of the course (and your grade), and you will be expected to read thoroughly and critically, coming to class prepared with questions about the readings and reasoned thoughts about their conclusions, assumptions, implications, etc.