Suzanne Nossel, chief executive of PEN America, hit the nail on the head when she described the free speech problem in America: “There’s a crisis around the freedom of speech now because many people don’t understand it, they weren’t taught what it means and why it matters.” As a professor at Syracuse University who teaches an introductory course on the free speech clause of the First Amendment, I couldn’t agree more. And it is as dangerous as it is heartbreaking.
The cases decided by our courts, particularly the Supreme Court, can be taught as narratives; stories that conclude with generally applicable constitutional rules. This is not to minimize the legions of jurists and academics who parse out and explain the deep philosophical underpinnings of our right, but an understanding of constitutional principles should not be limited only to elites with specialized knowledge in jurisprudence.
The vast majority of Americans believe free speech is one of the cornerstones of our democracy. Most of us understand that democracy cannot flourish without the freedom to speak; democracy cannot flourish when debate is restricted; democracy…Read More
Lynn Greenky is an Associate Teaching Professor at Syracuse University in the Department of Communication and Rhetorical Studies. She teaches a beloved undergraduate course about the First Amendment. She is the author of When Freedom Speaks: The Boundaries and Boundlessness of the First Amendment. You can follow her on Instagram @LynnGreenky.