First Amendment

  • March 21, 2013
    BookTalk
    Unlearning Liberty
    Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate
    By: 
    Greg Lukianoff

    by Greg Lukianoff, an attorney and president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

    I went to law school with a particular passion in mind: the First Amendment and freedom of speech. Starting at Stanford in 1997, I took virtually every class the law school offered on the First Amendment, completed six additional credits on the origins of the legal theory of “prior restraint” in Tudor England, and worked for the ACLU of Northern California. I was nonetheless unprepared for the kind of censorship I would see on college campuses, first as legal director and then as president of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education(FIRE).

    My recent book, Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate, is my attempt to catalog a small fraction of the terrible cases I’ve seen over the last 11 years and to explain why college censorship matters both on and off campus.

    The cases of censorship I have seen over the years run from the absurd to the serious. I have covered these cases in great detail at The Huffington Post, where I’m a regular contributor, and have for the past two years dubbed some of the offenders the “worst colleges for freedom of speech.” On the high-end of the absurd cases are those involving cartoons, one case involving a quote from the beloved yet short-lived science-fiction series, Firefly, and a politically incorrect flyer that made a joke about the freshman 15, all of which I showcased in an article with the tongue-in-cheek name “Top 10 Pics Too Hot for Campus.”

    I open Unlearning Liberty talking about the currently ongoing legal saga that straddles the chasm between absurd and serious. The case involved a student, Hayden Barnes, who protested against his school, Valdosta State University in southern Georgia, for its decision to build two parking garages on campus. He went about protesting the parking garages by contacting the Board of Regents and writing a letter to the editor of the student newspaper.

  • February 13, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Dena Sher, ACLU Washington Legislative Office & Tyler Ray, ACLU Washington Legislative Office. This piece is crossposted at the ACLU’s Washington Markup blog.

    The impact Superstorm Sandy had on homes, businesses, nonprofits, and houses of worship across the Northeast was devastating. And still, in the wake of the storm, these institutions reached out to their communities to provide the help they could. At the same time, they began the process of their own rebuilding; for congregations, this meant repairing their sanctuaries and sacred spaces.

    After a disaster, businesses and nonprofits often look to government assistance to help rebuild damaged property. Despite the talk in the past couple of months about how these government assistance programs discriminate against houses of worship, they don't. All nonprofit organizations (including houses of worship) and for-profit businesses can get low-interest, long-term, government-secured loans -- up to $2 million -- for losses not fully covered by insurance. Direct FEMA grants of taxpayer funds, however, are intended to serve a certain purpose—those grants are for nonprofits with facilities used for emergency, essential, and government-like activities to the community at large. Houses of worship, just like the many other nonprofit facilities, aren't then eligible to receive FEMA grants. Today, the House of Representatives approved H.R. 592, the so-called Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013, a bill that would upend this well-established policy to explicitly permit FEMA to funnel taxpayer funds to houses of worship.

    FEMA's policy not only ensures that FEMA grants are used to rebuild facilities that provide the most critical services to the entire community, but also reflects an important constitutional principle. Religious liberty is one of our nation's most fundamental values and it starts from the precept that religion and religious institutions thrive when both religion and government are safeguarded from the undue influences of the other.

  • February 4, 2013

    The NRA is fighting for a law in Florida that would bar doctors from asking children whether there are guns in their homes. If doctors “unnecessarily [harass] a patient about firearm ownership during an examination,” they face a fine of up to $10,000 and risk losing their license to practice medicine.

    posted by ESA

  • January 17, 2013
    BookTalk
    Priests of Our Democracy
    The Supreme Court, Academic Freedom, and the Anti-Communist Purge
    By: 
    Marjorie Heins

    by Marjorie Heins, director of the Free Expression Policy Project, adjunct professor at New York University, and author of  Not in Front of the Children: Indecency, Censorship, and the Innocence of Youth. Her latest book is Priests of Our Democracy: The Supreme Court, Academic Freedom, and the Anti-Communist Purge.


    Academic freedom is not as obvious a concept nowadays as it seemed when the Supreme Court first incorporated it into the First Amendment in response to McCarthy era investigations and purges of left-wing teachers and professors. Why, after all, should academics have privileges not given to workers in other jobs? Surely, academic freedom would not protect the instructor who is incompetent -- who denies the Holocaust in a history class, for example, or preaches creationism instead of teaching evolution in Biology 101.

    The idea of academic freedom emerged more than a century ago, when professors who supported union organizing and other social causes were losing their jobs because corporate-dominated boards of trustees did not like their politics. One of the best-publicized firings was of the young professor Scott Nearing from the University of Pennsylvania. In response, prominent scholars got together and founded the American Association of University Professors (the AAUP). The AAUP’s 1915 “Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure” argued that universities are different from businesses and professors are therefore different from other employees. The freedom they need in their teaching, research, and “extramural” speech (such as Scott Nearing’s advocacy for socialism and against child labor) are not matters of personal privilege but of broad public interest.

    Or, as Justice Felix Frankfurter put it in a 1952 case, teachers are “the priests of our democracy” because it is their special task “to foster those habits of open-mindedness and critical inquiry which alone make for responsible citizens.” It’s this notion that education is not just about rote learning but about “habits of open-mindedness and critical inquiry” that makes teachers essential to democracy.

    But lofty ideals are vulnerable to political realities and, consumed by the Cold War tensions of the 1950s, most American schools and universities decided that academic freedom should not protect teachers suspected of communist sympathies unless they cooperated with loyalty investigations by renouncing their past political errors and “naming names” of others they had known in the radical movements of the 1930s and ‘40s.

  • January 14, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Despite the reality that President Obama took no action during his first term to advance gun safety or sensible gun control measures, gun enthusiasts convinced themselves, with the help of right-wing pundits, that the president is not only a socialist but a budding tyrant preparing to confiscate gun owners’ arsenals from coast to coast. And this caricature has been a boon for gun manufacturers and sellers.   

    Over the weekend, The New York Times reported sales of guns, “which began climbing significantly after President Obama’s re-election,” have “soared” since the mass-shooting in Newtown, Conn., and the high-profile discussion of enacting gun safety regulations. An Iowa “independent gun dealer” told the newspaper, “If I had 1,000 AR-15s I could sell them in a week.”

    And now that the president and other lawmakers, such as N.Y. Governor Andrew Cuomo, Md. Governor Martin O’Malley and Colo. Gov. John Hickenlooper, are taking steps to enact gun control measures, gun enthusiasts are becoming louder, some hysterical and others going ballistic.

    The National Rifle Association has been predictable and lame. The group blamed the arts, such as movies, for spurring gun violence and argued that more guns are the solution. In late December, the group’s Vice President Wayne LaPierre, said armed guards should be placed in the nation’s schools. James Yeager of a Tennessee company that apparently trains people to use weapons said in a YouTube video that if the president issued an executive order promoting gun safety that he would “start killing people.” Other chuckleheads have taken to the airwaves to threaten violence if the government were to take any action to curb gun violence.

    What this period of discussion about the nation’s obsession with guns and how to take some measured steps to curb gun violence has exposed, in part, is that the gun lobby is growing tired and extremists are jumping into the fray. Many of these gun lovers believe that the Second Amendment is absolute. First, very few things in life are absolute and certainly there are very few if any rights provided by the Constitution that are absolute. For instance, the First Amendment does not protect all speech and expression. Political speech is provided more protection than commercial speech, speech advocating illegal conduct is not wholly protected under the First Amendment. What about the Fourth Amendment. We know that not all government searches are illegal. Indeed the Fourth Amendment has a lot of exceptions for police officers, acting in good faith and under certain circumstances, to conduct searches and seize property that many would argue are unconstitutional.

    I could go on, but the point is that the Second Amendment does not forbid the regulation of guns. It is likely too much to ask of many of the rabid gun enthusiasts to read D.C. v. Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that held an individual does have the right to “keep and bear arms.”