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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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4. Free Speech and Confederate Symbols (Logan Strother and Nathan T. Carrington)


4. Free Speech and Confederate Symbols

Logan Strother and Nathan T. Carrington

Perhaps the most obviously visible link between the Civil War and the present day is the Confederate battle flag.1 To many Americans, the Confederate flag and other monuments and memorials to the Confederate States of America are unambiguous symbols of racial hatred and a reminder of America’s legacy of slavery and ascriptive racial hierarchy. The Confederacy, after all, was explicitly dedicated to the perpetuation of race-based slavery. Many others claim, however, that these Confederate icons are merely symbols of Southern heritage and reminders of our shared history, for good or ill. Some people in this latter camp go further, affirmatively rejecting any connection between contemporary displays of Confederate iconography and racial bigotry: “Heritage, not Hate” is the common refrain.2 What is undoubtedly true, however, is that Confederate symbols convey a message, regardless of the way in which those symbols are viewed. Symbols that convey a message, or meaning, are by definition speech—they say something, even if what they say is contestable.3 In this chapter, we address the free speech dimension of current controversies surrounding Confederate symbols and monuments.

Because of their fraught history, and perhaps also because of the multiple and potentially conflicting messages they might convey, Confederate icons are a source of recurrent controversy in American politics.4 One major round of controversy was ignited when Dylann Roof murdered nine African American churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015....

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