On Thursday, July 7, author Ian Rosenberg and Denver University’s Rebecca Aviel joined to discuss the First Amendment and what Freedom of Speech really means.
- Professor Rebecca Aviel opened our program on the First Amendment guarantee of free speech by asking Ian Rosenberg why he wrote, “The Fight For Free Speech: Ten Cases that Define our First Amendment Freedoms.” Rosenberg acknowledged that for many years as a media lawyer he explained complex legal concepts to smart people who were not lawyers. However, when his children began asking questions about their First Amendment rights in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting and subsequent student protests, he decided to distill the most important and succinct lessons using the pivotal Supreme Court cases to explain First Amendment rights regarding free speech.
- Aviel pointed out that Rosenberg employed the use of storytelling to personalize and bring to life the people behind the cases. Rosenberg concurred and noted that in law school students are taught the facts of the case, but not the backstory. By including the back story in the retelling of these important cases, readers are introduced to the real people behind pivotal Supreme Court cases.
- Aviel picked up on a related theme to the narrative style of Rosenberg’s book–by profiling the ordinary citizens’ stories, Rosenberg revealed the portion of their identity they were not willing to abandon. Rosenberg elaborated on this point by retelling the story of Mary Beth Tinker who as a student wanted to wear a black arm band to pay respect to the dead from the Vietnam War–both Vietnamese and American. She was pressured by school administration to remove the arm band. She felt strongly about this issue and fought for her right to express herself all the way to the Supreme Court. According to Rosenberg, this highlights one of the most important values in the First Amendment–the protection of unpopular dissent.
- When asked whether the character of the First Amendment had changed, Rosenberg noted that in his book he pairs historic cases with contemporary issues. He noted that First Amendment issues are one area on the Supreme Court where the liberal/conservative divide begins to break down, noting a recent First Amendment case reaffirming the centrality of student speech with an 8-1 verdict. Conservatives and liberals alike care deeply about First Amendment issues.
- When asked what the biggest threat was to the First Amendment, Rosenberg noted an inherent flaw in the concept of “the marketplace of ideas.” Namely, that not all voices are heard equally–such as women, minorities, and the disabled. He also noted that social media can amplify mob efforts, misinformation, and hate speech.