Free Speech: The First Amendment in Crisis

Andrew Porwancher
Andrew Porwancher
University of Oklahoma

Andrew Porwancher is the Wick Cary Professor at the University of Oklahoma, where he teaches constitutional history. Professor Porwancher previously held the May Fellowship at Harvard, the Horne Fellowship at Oxford, and the Garwood Fellowship at Princeton. Porwancher also is the recipient of the Longmire Prize for innovative teaching. His newest book, The Jewish World of Alexander Hamilton, was published by Princeton University Press and won the Journal of the American Revolution Book-of-the Year Award.

 

Overview

The First Amendment to the Constitution is considered a pillar of our democracy. By placing checks on governmental power to silence its populace, its protections have important ramifications. But the First Amendment is not simply a legal concept—it has significant and far-reaching cultural implications as well.

This course will consider questions of how we define speech, and when the state or others can interfere with individual rights. What the First Amendment protects is largely a function of why it offers protection — a commitment to democracy and liberty. In pursuit of these ideals, courts have often placed a higher value on political speech, although no such distinction is made in the Constitution.

In recent years, American universities today have become hotbeds not just for vigorous debate but for questioning whether vigorous debate even has a rightful place on campus. Speech codes, cancelled guest lecturers, and hecklers regularly make headlines. This talk will explore how our colleges have become lightning rods for conflict about the First Amendment.

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