Free speech, one of the most basic rights guaranteed to US citizens, has become a hot-button issue with phrases like “fake news” and “safe space” entering the national lexicon, and arguments raging over what is and is not acceptable conversation for the public square. Why do we protect some speech? The very reason for the First Amendment is to allow citizens the freedom to think, speak, write and worship as they wish, without governmental interference. The fact that the speech of some may make others uncomfortable is the price Americans pay for the protection of their own speech.
But what happens when the free speech of extremists incites others to violence? Doesn’t human dignity count for anything? And what about the evolving neuroscience that shows how injurious – both psychologically and physically – speech that is hateful and threatening can be? The US Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that hate speech is legally protected free speech under the First Amendment. In today’s climate of spiking hate crimes, anti-Semitic acts and bigotry of all kinds erupting across the nation, is there a free speech breaking point—a line at which the hateful or harmful or controversial nature of free speech should cause it to lose constitutional protection under the First Amendment?
On April 19, 2020, Thane Rosenbaum, whose book is entitled: Saving Free Speech…from Itself, was joined by a panel of icons of the First Amendment field and a Pulitzer Prize-winning opinion writer — Nadine Strossen, the first woman to head the American Civil Liberties Union; Floyd Abrams, a prominent First Amendment lawyer and a supporter of broad free-speech rights; and Bret Stephens, New York Times columnist — to discuss the meaning of freedom of speech and its relationship to hate speech, as well as its implications for our safety, freedom, and democracy.
Thane Rosenbaum’s book, as well as books on free speech from Nadine Strossen and Floyd Abrams can be purchased online at Barnes & Noble:
Saving Free Speech…from Itself by Thane Rosenbaum
HATE: Why We Should Resist it With Free Speech, Not Censorship by Nadine Strossen
The Soul of the First Amendment by Floyd Abrams
This event was co-produced with 92Y.
CLE CREDIT was approved for this event in accordance with the requirements of the New York State Continuing Legal Education Board for attorneys to earn 1.5 skills transitional and non-transitional credits. Forum on Life, Culture and Society has a financial hardship policy. For more information, please contact Shervin Abachi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Creative Director, FOLCS
Thane Rosenbaum is an essayist, novelist, and law professor. He is the author of numerous books of fiction and nonfiction, and has written for The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, among other national publications. He serves as the Legal Analyst for CBS News Radio and can be seen regularly on several cable news shows. He moderates The Talk Show here at the 92nd Street Y. He is a Distinguished University Professor at Touro College, where he directs the Forum on Life, Culture & Society. His new book is Saving Free Speech…from Itself.
Professor, Legal Scholar
Nadine Strossen, the John Marshall Harlan II Professor at New York Law School and the immediate past President of the American Civil Liberties Union (1991-2008), is a leading expert and frequent speaker/media commentator on constitutional law and civil liberties, who has testified before Congress on multiple occasions. She serves on the advisory boards of the ACLU, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), and Heterodox Academy.
The National Law Journal has named Strossen one of America’s “100 Most Influential Lawyers”; several other publications have named her one of the country’s most influential women; and she has received many honorary degrees and awards.
When Strossen stepped down as ACLU President, three (ideologically diverse) Supreme Court Justices participated in her farewell/tribute luncheon: Justices Ginsburg, Scalia, and Souter.
Strossen’s 2018 book HATE: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship has earned praise from ideologically diverse experts, including Harvard Professor Cornel West and Princeton Professor Robert George. Washington University selected HATE as its 2019 “Common Read.” Her earlier book, Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women’s Rights, was named a New York Times “notable book” of 1995.
Columnist, New York Times
Bret Stephens is an op-ed columnist at the New York Times and a political analyst for MSNBC. He has previously worked as foreign-affairs columnist and deputy editorial-page editor at the Wall Street Journal, and as editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post. He is the recipient of numerous awards and distinctions, including the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary and the 2019 Ellis Island Medal of Honor.
First Amendment Lawyer
Floyd Abrams is Senior Counsel at the New York law firm of Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP and a Visiting Lecturer at the Yale Law School. He is the author of “Friend of the Court: On the Front Lines with the First Amendment” (2013) and “Speaking Freely: Trials of the First Amendment” (2005). His latest book, “The Soul of the First Amendment,” was published by the Yale University Press in 2017.
Mr. Abrams was described by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan on the floor of the US Senate as “the most significant First Amendment lawyer of our age.” Yale Law School Dean Robert Post has called him “the Dean of the First Amendment lawyers in the United States” and said that “no lawyer has exercised a greater influence on the development of First Amendment jurisprudence in the last four decades.” The Deputy Council of The New York Times recently described him in his book “Truth in Our Times” as “the lawyer who has made the single greatest contribution to press freedom in our lifetime.”
Abrams has argued frequently in the Supreme Court in a large number of its most significant First Amendment cases. He was co-counsel to The New York Times in the Pentagon Papers case; counsel to the Brooklyn Museum of Art in its legal battles with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani; counsel to Senator Mitch McConnell, as amicus curiae, in Citizens United case and argued orally in that successful First Amendment-rooted challenge to the constitutionality of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance legislation. He has served as counsel to many journalists, including Judith Miller and Myron Farber, who sought to protect the identity of their confidential sources. He has represented The New York Times, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, Time Magazine, Business Week, The Nation, Reader’s Digest, The McGraw-Hill Companies Inc., and numerous other clients in trials and appeals.
Mr. Abrams graduated from Cornell University in 1956 and the Yale Law School in 1960. He served from 1994 to 2009 as the William J. Brennan, Jr. Visiting Professor of First Amendment Law at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.