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Free Speech Theory

Understanding the Controversies


Edited By Helen J. Knowles and Brandon T. Metroka

The rallying cry of "Free speech!" has long served as a touchstone for liberals and conservatives, alike, engaged in political polarization conflict and discourse. The democratization of media and the feverish pitch of political polarization, however, have contributed to the weaponization of free expression. From Colin Kaepernick to "fake news," boycotts of partisan television programming to removals of Confederate monuments, internet neutrality to the silencing of college professors and all points between, citizens and pundits all too frequently wield the slogan of "Free speech!" as the sword and shield of political discourse. Oftentimes, ironically they do so with little regard for the views of their opponents. As a result, society risks trading a substantive value for an empty slogan or, far worse, blind authority.To rediscover the underlying assumptions and social values served by free expression, and to move current controversies beyond rhetorical flourishes, Helen J. Knowles and Brandon T. Metroka assemble an impressive group of legal and political scholars to address one overarching question: "Why should we value free speech?" Through analyses of several recent controversies invoking concerns for free expression, the contributors to this volume make complex political theory accessible, informative, and entertaining. Beginning with internet neutrality and ending with an overview of developing free expression controversies in comparable western democracies, experts reestablish the link between free expression and the underlying values it may serve. In doing so, this volume unearths values previously unexamined in our modern—but increasingly impoverished and bitter—political discourse.

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2. Freedoms of Speech in the Multiversity (Mark A. Graber)


2. Freedoms of Speech in the Multiversity

Mark A. Graber

Free speech fights are taking place at institutions of higher learning across the United States and the world.1 Professors are disciplined for wearing blackface at parties.2 Students are disciplined for making racist or sexist remarks. Oxford University students are filing a petition asking the university to prohibit Professor John Finnis, a well-known legal theorist, from teaching because of his views on homosexuality.3 Controversial speakers are disinvited or chased from college campuses.4 Prominent thinkers proclaim, “Universities that should stand as bastions of open dialogue and free speech have too often become sites of intolerance and intimidation.”5

These incidents receive substantial journalistic, political, and scholarly attention. Prominent media cover free speech fights on campus. Major political figures weigh in. The President tweets. Leading scholars write important books and articles about the subject. Notable authors include the Chancellor of the University of California, Irvine and the dean of the law school at the University of California, Berkeley,6 the dean of Yale Law School,7 one of the most distinguished literary theorists at the turn of the twenty-first century,8 and the Cromwell Professor of Politics at Princeton University.9

This chapter explores four different approaches to regulating speech on campus: uninhibited speech, disciplined speech, weak inclusive speech, and strong inclusive speech. Uninhibited and disciplined speech advocates begin from the premise that universities are committed to “the production and dissemination of ideas.”10...

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