Free Speech: What Everyone Needs to Know®

This book explains the key principles of modern First Amendment law, showing that it embodies universal values and is eminently sensible; it lets government outlaw the most dangerous speech (speech that directly causes or threatens specific imminent harm, such as intentional incitement of imminent violence) while outlawing the most dangerous censorship (restrictions on speech solely due to its unpopular or vaguely feared ideas). Before the modern Supreme Court adopted these speech-protective precepts—which are often summarized as the “emergency” and “viewpoint-neutrality” principles—the government had discretion to restrict speech with an indirect, speculative connection to potential harm under the “bad tendency” test; it predictably wielded such discretion disproportionately to suppress its critics and advocates of human rights and social justice causes. Conversely, dissident voices and disempowered groups have especially depended on strong free speech principles. Many of the landmark Supreme Court cases the book summarizes highlight how many speech-protective doctrines were developed in cases involving minority speakers and causes, including throughout the civil rights movement. The book sets out the most common, strongest arguments against modern First Amendment law’s robust speech protection and responds to them, noting that many reflect misunderstandings about what that law actually provides. The book also discusses the most controversial speech, including hate speech, disinformation, pornography, and extremist speech. While acknowledging that such expression is potentially harmful, it demonstrates that increasing government power to censor it would be even more harmful.

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