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The First Amendment This Week

Brooklyn symposium explores the past, present and future of free speech

Professor Joel Gora

Professor Joel Gora

When it comes to First Amendment symposia, Brooklyn Law School seems to be the go-to-venue, at least judging from the latest issue of the Law School’s Jounral of Law and PolicyThe symposium was done under the watchful eye of Professor Joel Gora, who authored the Introduction — The Past, Present and Future of Free Speech. In that introuction Gora writes:

This may be a historic moment for the First Amendment. In 2016, a landmark Supreme Court ruling turned forty, the Supreme Court turned a corner, and First Amendment rights may turn out to be strengthened. January 30, 2016 marked the fortieth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Buckley v. Valeo, dealing with the clash between First Amendment rights and campaign finance limits. And February 12, 2016, the day Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died, marked the end of a ten-year period when the “Roberts Court” became perhaps the most First Amendment friendly and speech-protective Court in the Nation’s history. And the surprise outcome of this past presidential election may, unexpectedly, enhance the future of free speech, because Judge Neil Gorsuch, Donald Trump’s nominee to succeed Justice Scalia, seems to be a strong supporter of the First Amendment

The contents of the symposium are set out below.

V.P. Pence on campus speech codes

Last Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence delivered the commencement address at the University of Notre Dame.

As reported by FIRE’s  Adam Steinbaugh, “Pence’s address included an extended discussion of the state of freedom of expression on America’s college campuses.” Here are some excerpts from the Vice President’s remarks:

You know, if the emanations of free speech were charted on a map like infrared heat signatures, one would hope that universities would be the hottest places. Red and purple with dispute, not dark blue and white frozen into camped orthodoxy and intellectual stasis.

If such a map were to exist, Notre Dame would burn bright with the glow of vibrant discussion. This university is a vanguard of freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas at a time, sadly, when free speech and civility are waning on campuses across America. [See here FIRE’s free-speech rating of Notre Dame]

Notre Dame is a campus where deliberation is welcomed, where opposing views are debated, and where every speaker, no matter how unpopular or unfashionable, is afforded the right to air their views in the open for all to hear.

But Notre Dame is an exception, an island in a sea of conformity, so far spared from the noxious wave that seems to be rushing over much of academia. While this institution has maintained an atmosphere of civility and open debate, far too many campuses across America have become characterized by speech codes, safe zones, tone-policing, administration-sanctioned political correctness, all of which amounts to nothing less than suppression of the freedom of speech. 

These all-too-common practices are destructive of learning and the pursuit of knowledge, and they are wholly outside the American tradition. As you, our youth, are the future, and universities the bellwether of thought and culture, I would submit that the increasing intolerance and suppression of the time-honored tradition of free expression on our campuses jeopardizes the liberties of every American. This should not, and must not be met with silence.

Related

 

Oregon ACLU: Attempt to quash alt-right rallies would violate First Amendment

If the government has concrete evidence of an imminent threat they can and should address it, without restricting 1A rights of all. Oregon ACLU 

 Our hearts are broken, but government censorship is not the answer. We must defend the constitution even when it is uncomfortable.Mat dos Santos, Oregon ACLU Legal Director

Mayor Ted Wheeler

In the aftermath of a brutal anti-Muslim attack involving the slaying of two men and the serious injury of a third, Portalnd Mayor Ted Wheeler declared that “[o]ur city is in mourning, our community’s anger is real.” Because of that, Wheeler aksed  the federal government to revoke permits for two free speech rallies slated for next week by right-wing groups. The “timing and subject of these events can only exacerbate an already difficult situation,” he stressed. “I am calling on every elected leader in Oregon, every legal agency, every level of law enforcement to stand with me in preventing another tragedy,” he added. (Video of Mayor’s statement here.)

The Organizers 

According to KGW News in Portland, “Joey Gibson is organizing a rally on June 4 and has already received a permit for the event at Shrunk Plaza from the federal government, which controls the downtown park. A second rally is scheduled for June 10 but is not yet permitted.” Both were planned prior to the recent attack.

The event, billed as the “Trump Free Speech Rally,” is, according to its organizers, slated to consist of “speakers exercising their free speech, live music, flags, and an uplifting experience to bring back strength and courage to those who believe in freedom.Thank you Trump for all you have done.” (Video by Joey Gibson here re upcoming rallies.)

  Joey Gibson

The Mayor’s Statement

“‘My main concern is that they are coming to peddle a message of hatred and of bigotry,’ Wheeler told reporters, referring to organizers of the two rallies. ‘They have a First Amendment right to speak, but my pushback on that is that hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.’” (Source: CNN)

Oregon ACLU Response

ACLU’s Mat dos Santos

Enter the ACLU.  According to a story by Aaron Mesh writing in the Willamette Week, the “American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon says that Mayor Ted Wheeler’s efforts to keep far-right protesters from holding more rallies in Portland is an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment.”

“The government cannot revoke or deny a permit based on the viewpoint of the demonstrators,” The ACLU said. “Period. It may be tempting to shut down speech we disagree with,” the statement continued, “but once we allow the government to decide what we can say, see, or hear, or who we can gather with, history shows us that the most marginalized will be disproportionately censored and punished for unpopular speech.”

“We are all free to reject and protest ideas we don’t agree with. That is a core, fundamental freedom of the United States. If we allow the government to shut down speech for some, we all will pay the price down the line.”

Organizer Disavows Affiliation with Alleged Attacker 

As reported in the KGW news story, Joey Gibson, “who runs the group Patriot Prayer, said he is a Libertarian and does not promote hate speech. ‘I promote freedom. I promote love and I promote bringing spirituality back into this country,’ he said.Gibson said if the permit is revoked, the event could be more dangerous. He said he won’t be able to kick people out if they’re causing problems. . . . ‘Jeremy Christian has nothing to do with us and nothing to do with our movement,’ he said.”

Christian, the man alleged to have knifed three men on a MAX train, is said to have “yelled slurs at two teenage girls on the train, one of whom was wearing a hijab, when the other men intervened to try to talk him down.”

Jeremy Christian “was kicked out of a prior Patriot Prayer demonstration,” Gibson said.

→ Allan Brettman, Portland suspect in 2 slayings on train is known for hate speech, The Oregonian, May 28, 2017

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