Fall 2023

Law, Speech, and the Politics of Freedom

Listed in: Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought, as LJST-230


Martha M. Umphrey (Section 01)


In the United States, the idea of free speech is held to be both a political and moral ideal. The First Amendment makes freedom of speech a centerpiece of liberal democratic values and processes, and thus of American identity itself. But what, precisely, do we mean when we link the ideas of freedom and speech? What kinds of speech, and what kinds of freedom, are implicated in that linkage? Correlatively, what does it mean to "censor"? Drawing upon political philosophy, literary theory, court cases, imaginative writing, and examples from contemporary culture, this course will explore the multiple meanings of "free speech," their legal regulation, and their deployment in American public culture. Why should we value "free" speech? Who do we imagine to be the speaker whose speech ought to be free: the man on the soapbox? The political protestor? The media conglomerate? The anonymous chat-room inhabitant? What does it mean to say that various kinds of speech may be dangerous, and under what conditions might it be conceivable to shut down or regulate dangerous speech, or conversely to promote "politically correct" speech in either formal or informal ways? How do speech forms (for example, parody, poetry, or reportage) differ, and should some garner more legal protection than others? Can silence be considered a kind of speech?

 Limited to 30 students. Fall semester. Professor Umphrey.

How to handle overenrollment: upper class students and LJST majors will be given preference

Students who enroll in this course will likely encounter and be expected to engage in the following intellectual skills, modes of learning, and assessment: Emphasis on close reading of a wide variety of texts, written work, and class participation, including public presentation.


Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2013, Fall 2023