123 Freedom of Speech Topics & Essay Examples

Looking for exciting freedom of speech topics to write about? This issue is definitely worth studying!

🔝 Top 10 Freedom of Speech Essay Topics

⁉️ freedom of speech essay: how to write, 🏆 best freedom of speech essay examples & topic ideas, 🔍 simple & easy freedom of speech essay titles, 💡 most interesting freedom of speech topics to write about, ❓ research questions about freedom of speech.

In your freedom of speech essay, you might want to focus on the historical perspective, elaborate on the negative effects of censorship, or even share your personal experience. Whether you will choose to write an argumentative, persuasive, or narrative essay, our article will help! We’ve gathered a list of excellent topics, ideas, and questions, together with A+ freedom of speech essay examples.

  • Freedom of speech as an individual and a collective right
  • Freedom of speech and its limitations
  • Negative effects of censorship
  • The origins of freedom of speech
  • Freedom of speech as a negative right
  • Democracy and freedom of speech
  • Freedom of information in the era of Internet
  • Freedom of speech and academic freedom
  • Liberalism and freedom of speech
  • Freedom of speech in the US

Freedom of speech is an important topic because every person has a fundamental right to express their opinions freely. Our ability to express our thoughts allows society to change and develop.

Essays on freedom of speech can raise awareness of the significance of this issue. That is why it is vital to create powerful and well-developed papers on this cause.

You can discuss various topics in your freedom of speech essay. You can search for them online or consult your professor. Here are our suggestions on freedom of speech essay analysis questions:

  • The advantages and disadvantages of free speech policies
  • The struggle schools face from the perspective of free speech
  • The appropriate use of free speech
  • The link between the freedom of speech and yellow journalism
  • Speech as a personality trait: What the freedom of speech can reveal about people
  • Freedom of speech: Pros and cons
  • Freedom of speech in the United States (or other countries)

Once you have selected one of the titles for your essay, it is time to start working on the paper. Here are some do’s of writing the essay:

  • Select topics that you are most interested in, as your dedication can help you to keep the reader engaged too. You can select one from the freedom of speech essay titles presented above.
  • Develop a well-organized freedom of speech essay outline. Think of the main points you want to discuss and decide how you can present them in the paper. For example, you can include one introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs, and one concluding paragraphs.
  • Define your freedom of speech essay thesis clearly. You should state it at the end of the introduction. The reader should understand the main point of your paper.
  • While working on a persuasive essay, do not forget to include a section with an alternative perspective on the problem you are discussing.
  • Remember that a concluding paragraph is vital because it includes a summary of all arguments presented in the paper. Rephrase the main points of the essay and add recommendations, if necessary.
  • Check out essay examples online to see how you can structure your paper and organize the information.

Remember that you should avoid certain things while writing your essay. Here are some important don’ts to consider:

  • Do not focus on your personal opinion solely while writing your paper. Support your claims with evidence from the literature or credible online sources.
  • Do not ignore your professor’s requirements. Stick within the word limit and make sure that your essay meets all the criteria from the grading rubric, if there is one.
  • Avoid using personal blogs or Wikipedia as the primary sources of information, unless your professor states it in the instructions. Ask your instructor about the literature you can use for the essay.
  • When checking other students’ essays online, avoid copying their ideas. Remember that your paper should be plagiarism-free.
  • Make sure that your paper is mistake-free. Grammatical mistakes may make the reader think that your opinion is not credible. It is better to check the essay several times before sending it to your professor.

Don’t hesitate to explore our free samples that can help you to write an outstanding essay!

  • Freedom of Speech in Social Media Essay Gelber tries to say that the history of the freedom of speech in Australia consists of the periods of the increasing public debates on the issue of human rights and their protection.
  • Canada’s Freedom of Speech and Its Ineffectiveness In the developed societies of the modern world, it is one of the major premises that freedom of expression is the pivotal character of liberal democracy.
  • Balancing Freedom of Speech and Responsibility in Online Commenting The article made me perceive the position of absolute freedom of speech in the Internet media from a dual perspective. This desire for quick attention is the creation of information noise, distracting from the user […]
  • Freedom of Speech as a Basic Human Right Restricting or penalizing freedom of expression is thus a negative issue because it confines the population of truth, as well as rationality, questioning, and the ability of people to think independently and express their thoughts.
  • Freedom of Speech and Propaganda in School Setting One of the practical solutions to the problem is the development and implementation of a comprehensive policy for balanced free speech in the classroom.
  • Twitter and Violations of Freedom of Speech and Censorship The sort of organization that examines restrictions and the opportunities and challenges it encounters in doing so is the center of a widely acknowledged way of thinking about whether it is acceptable to restrict speech.
  • Freedom of Speech in Social Networks The recent case of blocking the accounts of former US President Donald Trump on Twitter and Facebook is explained by the violation of the rules and conditions of social platforms.
  • Teachers’ Freedom of Speech in Learning Institutions The judiciary system has not clearly defined the limits of the First Amendment in learning institutions, and it’s a public concern, especially from the teachers.
  • Privacy and Freedom of Speech of Companies and Consumers At the same time, in Europe, personal data may be collected following the law and only with the consent of the individuals.
  • Freedom of Speech in Shouting Fire: Stories From the Edge of Free Speech Even though the First Amendment explicitly prohibits any laws regarding the freedom of speech, Congress continues to make exceptions from it.
  • Freedom of Speech as the Most Appreciated Liberty In the present-day world, the progress of society largely depends on the possibility for people to exercise their fundamental rights. From this perspective, freedom of speech is the key to everyone’s well-being, and, in my […]
  • Why Defamation Laws Must Prioritize Freedom of Speech The body of the essay will involve providing information on the nature of defamation laws in the USA and the UK, the implementation of such laws in the two countries, and the reason why the […]
  • The Internet and Freedom of Speech: Ethics and Restrictions Because of a lack of security technology, across the board prohibition is justified under the law, a concept that is in itself considered unlawful by a strict definition of the First Amendment of the Constitution […]
  • Protesting as a Way of Exercising Freedoms of Speech and Expression However, this department will be very careful in monitoring the behavior of the protestors and engaging in dialogue to solve issues that may lead to conflicts.
  • Freedom of Speech Comes With Responsibility In Australia, freedom of expression, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press are highly valued accomplishments nowadays. According to Conroy, the present Press Council, and the current ACMA, the two existing establishments aimed to […]
  • Freedom of Speech: Is Censorship Necessary? One of the greatest achievements of the contemporary democratic society is the freedom of speech. However, it is necessary to realize in what cases the government has the right to abridge the freedom of self-expression.
  • Supreme Court Decision: Corporations and Freedom of Speech The Constitution is the framework for the Government of the United States that protects and guarantees the basic rights of the people.
  • Value of Copyright Protection in Relation to Freedom of Speech The phrase, freedom of expression is often used to mean the acts of seeking, getting, and transfer of information and ideas in addition to verbal speech regardless of the model used. It is therefore important […]
  • Freedom of Speech and the Internet On the one hand, the freedom of expression on the internet allowed the general public to be informed about the true nature of the certain events, regardless of geographical locations and restrictions.
  • Newt Gingrich Against Freedom of Speech According to the constitution, the First Amendment is part of the United States Bill of rights that was put in place due to the advocation of the anti-federalists who wanted the powers of the federal […]
  • The Freedom of Speech: Communication Law in US By focusing on the on goings in Guatemala, the NYT may have, no doubt earned the ire of the Bush administration, but it is also necessary that the American people are made aware of the […]
  • Freedom of Speech and Expression in Music Musicians are responsible and accountable for fans and their actions because in the modern world music and lyrics become a tool of propaganda that has a great impact on the circulation of ideas and social […]
  • Freedom of Speech on Campus The primary issue identified by the case study is the extent to which free speech can be used and is protected regarding sensitive social aspects and discussions.
  • Freedom of Speech and International Relations The freedom of speech or the freedom of expression is a civil right legally protected by many constitutions, including that of the United States, in the First Amendment.
  • The Importance of Freedom of Speech In a bid to nurture the freedom of speech, the United States provides safety to the ethical considerations of free conversations.
  • American Student Rights and Freedom of Speech As the speech was rather vulgar for the educational setting, the court decided that the rights of adults in public places cannot be identic to those the students have in school.
  • Freedom of Speech in Modern Media At the same time, the bigoted approach to the principles of freedom of speech in the context of the real world, such as killing or silencing journalists, makes the process of promoting the same values […]
  • Freedom of Speech: Julian Assange and ‘WikiLeaks’ Case Another significant issue is that the precedent of WikiLeaks questions the power of traditional journalism to articulate the needs of the society and to monitor the governments.
  • Advertising and Freedom of Speech According to Liodice, the marketer should provide the best information to the targeted consumer. The duty of the marketer is to educate and inform the consumer about the unique features of his or her product.
  • Freedom of Speech and Expression This implies that autonomy is the epitome of the freedom of expression in many ways. Perhaps, this is the point of diversion between autonomy and restriction of the freedom of expression.
  • Freedom of speech in the Balkans Freedom of speech in Montenegro In Montenegro, the practice of the freedom of speech and press were restricted to some issues by the law.
  • “The Weight of the Word” by Chris Berg From this analysis therefore, we see that, state interference in the wiki leaks saga was unwarranted, and it amounted to a breach of the freedom of the press.
  • Freedom of Speech in China and Political Reform Although the constitution of China has the provision of the freedom of speech, association, press and even demonstration, the freedom is not there in reality since the constitution forbids the undertaking of anything that is […]
  • Controversies Over Freedom of Speech and Internet Postings It must be noted though that despite the Freedom of Speech being a first Amendment right, subsequent amendments to the constitution as well as various historical acts such as the Sedition Act of 1798 and […]
  • Government’s control versus Freedom of Speech and Thoughts One of the most effective measures that oppressive regimes use the world over is the limitation of the freedom of speech and thoughts.
  • Freedom of Speech: Exploring Proper Limits In this respect, Downs mentions the philosophy of educational establishments, where “the function of the University is to seek and to transmit knowledge and to train student in the process whereby truth is to be […]
  • Freedom of Speech, Religion and Religious Tolerance As stipulated in Article 19 of the Universal Human Rights Declaration, the pastor has the right to share ideas and information of all kinds regardless of the periphery involved and in this case, he should […]
  • Why Free Speech Is An Important Freedom Freedom of speech is an important aspect of social life in a civilized and democratic society. Although there has been debate on the justification of freedom of speech, it is important to realize that society […]
  • Human Nature and the Freedom of Speech in Different Countries The paper will look at the human nature that necessitates speech and expression, freedom of speech as applied in different countries and limitations that freedom of speech faces.
  • The Freedom Of Speech, Press, And Petition
  • How The First Amendment Protects Freedom Of Speech
  • The Freedom Of Speech, And Gun Ownership Rights
  • The Misconception of Hate Speech and Its Connection with the Freedom of Speech in Our First Amendment
  • Limitations On Constitutional Rights On Freedom Of Speech
  • Teachers’ and Students’ Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression
  • Internet Censorship Means No Freedom of Speech
  • Freedom of Speech Part of America’s Constitution
  • An Examination of the Disadvantage of Freedom of Speech in Slack Activism
  • A Description of Freedom of Speech as One of the Most Important Freedoms
  • How Censorship In The Media Is Taking AWay Our Freedom Of Speech
  • An Analysis of Freedom of Speech and Its Punishments
  • The Effects Of Technology On The Right Of Freedom Of Speech
  • Freedom of Speech: Missouri Knights of the Ku Klux Klan v. Kansas City
  • Problems with Limiting Freedom of Speech
  • How The Freedom Of Speech And Its Interpretation Affects
  • Giving Up Freedom Of Speech – Censorship On Hate Sites
  • Freedom Of Speech, Religion, And The American Dream
  • The Freedom Of Speech Across The World Wide Web
  • Freedom of Speech: Should There be Restrictions on Speech in the U.S. Democracy
  • An Argument in Favor of the Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press in Schools
  • Freedom Of Speech And Violent Video Games
  • The Importance of Freedom of Speech to the Progress of Society
  • The Amendment Is Not Protected Under The Freedom Of Speech
  • Should There Be Restrictions to Freedom of Speech
  • Why Should Myanmar Have Similar Freedom of Speech Protections to United States
  • An Analysis of the Freedom of Speech and the Internet in United States of America
  • Freedom of Speech and the First Amendment
  • Free Speech : The Benefits Of Freedom Of Speech
  • Comparison of Freedom of Speech: Malaysia vs China
  • The Fine Line between Freedom of Speech or Hate Speech
  • Freedom Of Speech : One Of The Core Principles Of A Democracy
  • Prevent Internet Censorship, Save Freedom of Speech
  • The Importance of the First Amendment in Providing Freedom of Speech in America
  • How the Freedom of Speech Is Possible Through the Internet in China
  • The Importance of Freedom of Speech in Higher Education
  • Hate Mail and the Misuse of the Freedom of Speech on the Internet
  • A Comparison of Freedom of Speech and Private Property
  • Importance Of Freedom Of Speech In Colleges
  • Freedom Of Speech and Its Legal Limits
  • Freedom Of Speech As An International And Regional Human Right
  • The Importance of Protecting and Preserving the Right to Freedom of Speech
  • An Overview of the Importance of the Freedom of Speech in the United States
  • The Communication Decency Act: The Fight for Freedom of Speech on the Internet
  • Freedom Of Speech On Students’s Rights In School
  • How Far Should the Right to Freedom of Speech Extend
  • Journalism and Freedom of Speech
  • The Constitution and Freedom of Speech on the Internet in U.S
  • ‘Freedom of Speech Means the Freedom to Offend.’
  • Does the Law Relating to Obscenity Restict Freedom of Speech?
  • Does New Zealand Have Freedom of Speech?
  • How Far Should the Right to Freedom of Speech Extend?
  • Does South Korea Have Freedom of Speech?
  • How the First Amendment Protects Freedom of Speech?
  • Does Freedom of Speech Mean You Can Say Anything?
  • How Do You Violate Freedom of Speech?
  • What Are Mill’s Four Main Arguments in Defence of Freedom of Speech?
  • What Violates the Freedom of Speech?
  • What Are the Disadvantages of Freedom of Speech?
  • Does Freedom of Speech Have Limits?
  • Why Does Australia Not Have Freedom of Speech?
  • What Are the Three Restrictions to Freedom of Speech?
  • How Is Freedom of Speech Abused?
  • Who Benefits and Loses from Freedom of Speech?
  • Is There Freedom of Speech in Media?
  • What Are the Limits of Freedom of Speech in Social Media?
  • Does Social Media Allow Freedom of Speech?
  • How Is Freedom of Speech Negative?
  • Where Is Freedom of Speech Not Allowed?
  • Is USA the Only Country with Freedom of Speech?
  • Does India Have Freedom of Speech?
  • Who Made the Freedom of Speech?
  • Why Was Freedom of Speech Created?
  • Who Fought for Freedom of Speech?
  • Chicago (A-D)
  • Chicago (N-B)

IvyPanda. (2024, February 24). 123 Freedom of Speech Topics & Essay Examples. https://ivypanda.com/essays/topic/freedom-of-speech-essay-examples/

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1000-Word Philosophy: An Introductory Anthology

1000-Word Philosophy: An Introductory Anthology

Philosophy, One Thousand Words at a Time

Free Speech

Author: Mark Satta Category:  Social and Political Philosophy , Philosophy of Law , Ethics Word Count: 989

Want to criticize your government? Burn a flag? Wear a t-shirt that says f**k the draft?

Thanks to freedom of speech , in many places you can. [1]

But what exactly is freedom of speech? And what does it permit us to say? This essay will review some influential answers to these questions.

Image of a microphone.

1. Protection from Government, Not Private Actors

Freedom of speech, sometimes called freedom of expression , is a legal right to express many beliefs and ideas without government interference or punishment. This freedom does not typically prevent private entities (e.g., ordinary citizens or private organizations) from limiting speech. [2]

If freedom of speech prevented private entities from limiting speech, freedom of speech could not be applied consistently because the freedom of speech includes the ability not to speak. [3] So, e.g., if a newspaper was forced to publish every piece of writing submitted to it, then that newspaper would lose some ability to not speak. Freedom of speech also includes the right not to listen to or receive other people’s messages. [4]  

The fact that freedom of speech only prevents government interference doesn’t entail that freedom of speech is irrelevant to action by private entities. Some argue that certain private entities ought to voluntarily conform to legal standards for speech protection: e.g., that private universities should conform to the free speech standards legally required by public universities. [5]  Freedom of speech is also sometimes understood more broadly as a social value.

2. Limits on Free Speech

Freedom of speech is not an unlimited right. All governments impose some limits on what kinds of speech they will protect. This is because freedom of speech, like all rights, must be balanced against other rights and values.

Common types of speech not protected by freedom of speech include threats of violence, false advertising, and defamation (i.e., false statements that unjustly harm someone’s reputation). [6]

Many democratic nations do not protect hate speech (i.e., speech intended to threaten, degrade, or incite hatred against a group or group member based on group prejudice). But some other nations, including the United States, treat hate speech as protected speech. Whether hate speech should receive free speech protection has been much debated in recent years. [7]

  But even protected speech can be limited to an extent by the government: e.g., freedom of speech does not permit just anyone to enter a military base or a class at a public university and start talking. This is true because, even though military bases and public universities are government-run, these spaces seek to achieve other important goals that justify limiting free speech.

Freedom of speech gives you much greater latitude in a public park, a public sidewalk, or in your own home. But even in public places like parks and sidewalks, freedom of speech allows for content-neutral restrictions on speech: e.g., a town can have a noise ordinance banning playing loud music in parks near residential neighborhoods after midnight.

But it is important that these restrictions be content- and viewpoint-neutral . [8] Thus, a town could not pass an ordinance limiting speech only about certain topics or from certain perspectives in the park. Such a rule would discriminate based on the content or viewpoint of the speech. An important part of freedom of speech is that the government cannot restrict speech just because it doesn’t like the topics or agree with the speaker. Freedom of speech also doesn’t allow for the suppression of ideas simply because those ideas are unpopular.

3. Expressive Conduct

Freedom of speech protects more than just spoken and written expression. It also protects many other activities through which ideas can be expressed: [9] e.g., in the United States, abstract art, non-lyrical music, and marching in a parade are all activities protected under the freedom of speech. [10]

There are controversies concerning which activities ought to be considered expressive conduct: e.g., there is substantial disagreement about whether political spending by corporations ought to be protected as free speech. [11] There are also disagreements about if and when the creation of products like wedding cakes and photographs ought to be considered protected speech. [12]

4. Prior Restraint versus Subsequent Punishment

Freedom of speech protects people against two different types of government interference: prior restraint and subsequent punishment .

A prior restraint prevents you from speaking: it restrains your speech prior to it being made. At one point, many legal scholars thought that freedom of speech meant only freedom from prior restraint. [13] That is no longer true.

Today, most everyone believes that freedom of speech protects people not only from prior restraint, but also from subsequent punishment (i.e., from being legally sanctioned for protected speech). This makes freedom of speech more robust because it protects people not only from having their protected speech restrained, but also from having their protected speech punished by the government.

5. Why is Free Speech Important?

Philosophers and legal scholars have given many different explanations for why free speech is important. Many scholars think there are multiple good reasons why we protect free speech. [14]

Three common rationales for free speech protections are that they help us (1) discover truth, (2) respect human autonomy, and (3) preserve democracy by allowing criticism of government.

Influential advocates of the idea that free speech helps us discover truth include writer John Milton, philosopher John Stuart Mill, and U.S. Supreme Court Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis. [15]

One common form of the truth discovery argument is that the best way to overcome false speech is with more speech. [16] Given what we know about how viral misinformation works, such a claim can appear implausible. [17] But even if this version of the truth discovery argument is mistaken, there may be weaker forms of a truth-preservation principle that provide us with good reason to safeguard free speech: e.g., someone might argue that the fallibility of political leaders requires them to avoid suppressing others’ ideas.

6. Conclusion

Freedom of speech is valuable. Protecting it first requires understanding it.

[1] See, e.g., Brandenburg v. Ohio , Texas v. Johnson , and Cohen v. California .

[2] See, e.g., U.S. Const. Amend I .

[3] Gaebler 1982 .

[4] Corbin 2009 .

[5] Chemerinsky and Gillman 2017 .

[6] Maras 2015 , Redish and Voils 2017 , and Post 1986 .

[7] See, e.g., Waldron 2012 and Strossen 2018 .

[8] Jacobs 2003 .

[9] Tushnet, Chen, and Blocher 2017 .

[10] See, e.g., Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston .

[11] Hasen 2011 .

[12] Liptak 2017 .

[13] Rabban 1981 , Healy 2013 .

[14] Greenawalt 1989 .

[15] Milton 1644 (reprinted 1918) , Mill 1859 , Abrams v. United States (Holmes, J. dissenting ), Whitney v. California (Brandeis, J. concurring) .

[16] See, e.g., Milton 1644 (reprinted 1918) , Whitney v. California (Brandeis, J. concurring) .

[17] Wu 2018 .

Abrams v. the United States , 250 U.S. 616 (1919).

Brandenburg v. Ohio , 395 U.S. 444 (1969).

Cohen v. California , 403 U.S. 15 (1971).

Hurley v. Irish American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston , 515 U.S. 557 (1995).

Texas v. Johnson , 491 U.S. 397 (1989).

Whitney v. California , 274 U.S. 357 (1927).

Corbin, Caroline Mala. 2009. “The First Amendment right against compelled listening.” Boston University Law Review , 89 (3): 939-1016.

Chemerinsky, Erwin and Howard Gillman. 2017. Free Speech on Campus . Yale University Press.

Gaebler, David. 1982. “First Amendment Protection Against Government Compelled Expression and Association.” Boston College Law Review , 23 (4): 995-1023.

Greenawalt, Kent. 1989. “Free Speech Justifications.” Columbia Law Review 89 (1): 119-155.

Hasen, Richard L. 2011. “Citizens United and the Illusion of Coherence.” Michigan Law Review , 109 (4): 581-623.

Healy, Thomas. 2013. The Great Dissent: How Oliver Wendell Holmes Changed His Mind—and Changed the History of Free Speech in America . Metropolitan Books.

Jacobs, Leslie Gielow. 2003. “Clarifying the Content-Based/Content Neutral and Content/Viewpoint Determinations.” McGeorge Law Review , 34 (3): 595-635 .

Liptak, Adam. 2017. “Where to Draw Line on Free Speech? Wedding Cake Case Vexes Lawyers.” New York Times .

Maras, Marie-Helen. 2015. “Unprotected Speech Communicated via Social Media: What Amounts to a True Threat?” Journal of Internet Law , 19 (3): 3-9.

Mill, John Stuart. 1859. On Liberty . John W. Parker & Son.

Milton, John. 1918. Areopagitica . Cambridge University Press.

Post, Robert C. 1986. “The Social Foundations of Defamation Law: Reputation and the Constitution” California Law Review , 74: 691-742.

Rabban, David M. 1981. “The First Amendment in Its Forgotten Years.” Yale Law Journal , 90 (3): 514-595.

Redish, Martin H. and Kyle Voils. 2017. “False Commercial Speech and the First Amendment: Understanding the Implications of the Equivalency Principle.” William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal , 25: 765-799.

Strossen, Nadine. 2018. Hate: Why We Should Resist it With Free Speech, Not Censorship . Oxford University Press.

Tushnet, Mark V., Alan K. Chen, and Joseph Blocher. 2017. Free Speech Beyond Words: The Surprising Reach of the First Amendment . New York University Press.

Waldron, Jeremy. 2012. The Harm in Hate Speech . Harvard University Press.

Wu, Tim. 2018. “Is the First Amendment Obsolete?” Michigan Law Review , 117 (3): 547-581.

For Further Reading

“Freedom of Expression – Speech and Press.” Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute.

van Mill, David, “Freedom of Speech”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2021 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)  

Related Essays

Philosophy of Law: An Overview  by Mark Satta

Theories of Punishment by Travis Joseph Rodgers 

Hannah Arendt’s Political Thought by David Antonini

John Rawls’ ‘A Theory of Justice’ by Ben Davies

PDF Download

Download this essay in PDF. 

About the Author

Mark Satta is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. He received his PhD in Philosophy from Purdue University and his JD from Harvard Law School. Some of his philosophical research interests include philosophy of law, epistemology, bioethics, and philosophy of language. MarkSatta.com

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Free Speech

Free Speech

  • Free Speech /

Discussion and Essay Questions

Cite this source, available to teachers only as part of the teaching free speechteacher pass, teaching free speech teacher pass includes:.

  • Assignments & Activities
  • Reading Quizzes
  • Current Events & Pop Culture articles
  • Discussion & Essay Questions
  • Challenges & Opportunities
  • Related Readings in Literature & History

Sample of Discussion and Essay Questions

From deep throat to bong hits for jesus.

  • What is your first reaction—should pornography be protected by the First Amendment? Why or why not?
  • What about speeches that advocate illegal activities or violence? Again—why or why not?
  • How would this be consistent (or inconsistent) with your understanding of the purposes of the American Revolution?

Roots of Free Speech Laws

  • What was its only real guarantee?
  • If you can be jailed for what you say, is speech really protected?
  • Explain the bad tendency test.
  • Why do you suppose British courts used this test to measure sedition?
  • What was the most critical legal innovation established in the Zenger trial?

Writing the First Amendment

  • How did his commitment to rights of speech differ?
  • Compare Madison’s draft to the adopted language of the First Amendment. What are the differences?
  • Was Madison committed to free speech because people had a natural right to say what they wanted? Or did he believe free speech serve a larger purpose? Explain.
  • How might this view have affected Madison’s definition of permissible speech?
  • How did Americans’ republican philosophies limit their interpretation of appropriate speech?
  • Overall, in what ways were the framers understanding of free speech more narrow than contemporary understandings?

The Sedition Act

  • In what ways did the Sedition Act reflect the framers' more conservative understanding of free speech? 
  • In what ways did the Sedition Act actually advance an understanding of free speech that was more liberal than the British?
  • Based on the ideas of Madison, the adopted language of the amendment, republican philosophy, and the Sedition Act, what did free speech mean to the founding generation?
  • How do the ideas of Tunis Wortman stretch the First Amendment toward contemporary understandings?
  • What would not be protected?

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Table of Contents

Fire’s 2020-2021 free speech essay contest: more winning essays.

  • Josh Haverlock

A word cloud illustration created with words from this year's essay contest entries.

A word cloud illustration created with words from this year's essay contest entries.

FIRE’s High School Outreach team recently published the winners of the 2020–2021 Free Speech Essay Contest — along with the winning submission . 

This year’s prompt asked students to draw on current events, historical examples, personal experiences, or other FIRE resources to pen “a persuasive letter or essay [to] convince your peers that free speech is a better idea than censorship.” 

Below, we’re printing the essays from our second and third place winners.

And if you’re a high school student or teacher, find age-level resources on free expression, civil liberties lesson plans, and more — at thefire.org/high-school.

Second Place Entry  

Sami Al-Asady — Ironwood High School 

Glendale, Ariz. 

Free Speech: The Foundation of a Vibrant Democracy 

In 1995, after my grandfather and uncle had been brutally killed for voicing criticism of dictator Saddam Hussein’s authoritarian regime, my father fled Iraq and immigrated to the United States, where free speech is enshrined in the Constitution. My mother, also a refugee, narrowly escaped genocide in the Bosnian War, where ethnic minorities were slaughtered and devoid of their religious freedoms. As a first-generation American, I hold dear the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  

Intellectuals have long revered the principle of free speech. For instance, British philosopher John Stuart Mill, a century and a half ago, declared, “All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility.” Mill argued that minority opinions must be shielded from the mob that would readily suppress them. Silencing lone opinions not only encroaches on individual rights, but it also threatens the bedrock values of truth, autonomy, and self-governance that are so critical to a modern, pluralistic democracy. The idea is profoundly optimistic: good ideas win. 

To protect the cherished First Amendment, however, difficult decisions have to be made. In the landmark 2011 Snyder v. Phelps case, in an 8-to-1 vote, the court ruled that government could not stop members of the Westboro Baptist Church from protesting military funerals across the country because of what they perceived to be the government’s tolerance of homosexuality—signs like “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” were ubiquitous. Although the decision was difficult, the majority decided to protect free speech, however painful it may be, because the mere possibility of government censorship impinges on the very promise America was founded on—that of a constitutionally free nation. Government censorship nurtures anti-democratic values that transgress the idea of liberty. 

Sadly, free speech is under attack on college campuses. Rather than foster safe environments for political discourse, the key to an active and informed citizenry, university administrators have elected to censor speech. For instance, universities are actively encroaching on the principle of free speech by relegating students to minuscule “free speech zones.” At Valdosta State University, free speech activities of 11,000 students were limited to just 1% of the 168-acre campus. This atrocious policy was a testament to the false promise that college is a protected place for discourse. However, it is not just school administrators that are attacking free speech, but it is also students themselves. At Grand Canyon University (GCU), students blocked conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro from speaking. This action clearly contravenes the school’s mission of preparing students to become global citizens, critical thinkers, and proactive communicators. By blocking dissenting views, college students effectively prevent themselves from attaining a profound liberal arts education. Blocking speakers that hold different political views not only prevents students from engaging in personally transformative discourse, but also from understanding why political opposites believe their ideas with conviction. Until the principle of free speech is vigorously fostered on college campuses, students will not acquire the critical thinking skills needed to succeed in a complex, globalized world. 

Furthermore, absurdly vague speech codes at universities are potent threats to a vibrant democracy. For instance, the University of Michigan enacted a code that forbade “[any] behavior, verbal or physical, that stigmatizes or victimizes an individual on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or creed.” Although the commitment to protect students from harm is applaudable, speech codes such as this impinge on the free communication that is so vital to our democracy. By cherry-picking which speech is protected and which isn’t, authoritarianism and government censorship can run rampant, preventing significant dialogue from occurring. Moreover, the vagueness of the policy’s language is a testament to the inadequacy of speech codes as a disciplinary measure. Thankfully, federal and state courts have decreed the measure unconstitutional. In the opinion of Doe v. University of Michigan , the court observed, “[t]he Supreme Court has consistently held that statutes punishing speech or conduct solely on the grounds that they are unseemly or offensive are unconstitutionally overbroad.” While hate speech, sexual harassment, racism, and heterosexism are important issues that ought to be addressed, restricting speech is not the solution. 

Americans must remember the words of Mark Twain, who, a century ago, cautioned, “[whenever] you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” As social media corporations promulgate Orwellian-like groupthink, his words ring truer and truer with each passing day. Protecting the First Amendment allows revolutionary ideas to burgeon. Additionally, it allows citizens to challenge conventional wisdom and the status quo; novel ideas often give birth to remarkable outcomes. For instance, just take a look at the Great American Experiment. Appalled by the tyranny of the British monarchy, the Founding Fathers envisioned a nation in which unalienable rights—including free speech—are to be protected by the Constitution. They debated vigorously and held starkly different political philosophies; however, they refused to shy away from ideas that discomforted them.  

As I think back to my parents’ journey to America, I realize the First Amendment is under attack precisely because of its power. It has the power to start a revolution, a new country, a new social order, a democracy. My generation must protect the cherished principle of free speech on college campuses and teach our peers the virtues of open dialogue and political discourse, for the consequences of government censorship are too great. 

Third Place Entry  

Salome Augusto – Stone Bridge High School

Ashburn, Va. 

Dangerous Ideas

In the winter of 1954, an economist and scholar, a Dr. Paul M. Sweezy, found himself before the New Hampshire Attorney General. Sweezy was at the center of an investigation. 

“What was the subject of your lecture?” 

During his interrogation, Sweezy refused to answer any questions pertaining to a lecture he’d held at the University of New Hampshire the year prior. It had discussed quite an unsavory subject at the time, socialism. 

“Did you advocate Marxism at that time?” 

McCarthyism, the political backing behind this investigation, was a campaign rooted in the desire to preserve American freedoms against a potentially tyrannical ideology. Yet it suppressed the freedom of speech, labelling those with alternative opinions as “subversive”. In fact, Sweezy was being investigated under New Hampshire’s Subversive Activities Act. Doomed if he answered and doomed if he didn’t, Sweezy was found in contempt of court for his decision to remain silent. 

Freedom of speech has remained a complex topic throughout American history. Dr. Sweezy wasn’t the first and won’t be the last controversial speaker to show up on an American campus. His ideas weren’t the first and won’t be the last unpopular ideas to be debated in a public setting. This is a constant. What has seen fluctuations is support for greater restrictions on speech. Restrictions on the First Amendment often come about for what could certainly be considered noble reasons, but under closer inspection, we can see that none are truly justified. As the upcoming generation, the next influence on public policy and social climate, it’s vital that we see the importance in free and open discussions always. 

Over the past few decades, there’s been a slow increase in limitations on free speech, particularly on our college campuses. Speech codes, speaker bans, and small “free speech zones” are becoming more widely accepted. Although colleges house relatively small portions of the population, it’s important to pay attention to the individual climates we create within them. Colleges reflect the social and political future of our country.

The reasons for their constraints on the First Amendment are often good in theory. Speech codes are instituted to curtail hate speech or the spread of dangerous ideas. Speaker bans and free speech zones are set up to promote civility. However, in practice, they set a precarious precedent. Both hate speech and dangerous ideas are subjective. Outright threats, open calls for violence against others, and clear discriminatory harassment are identifiable and legally restrictable, but, beyond that, the territory is a gray area. At one point in our Nation’s history, racial mixing was considered a dangerous idea. Advocacy for my very existence as a multiracial person would’ve been seen as a threat to racial purity. Depending on the context, really any idea could be considered “dangerous” or “hateful.” If we set the precedent of subjectively restricting some speech, any speech can be restricted. As for civility, suppressing speech would most likely lead to the opposite. When we feel that we’ve been wronged, when we feel we’ve been silenced, do we not become more passionate, even reckless? Instead, we should strive to promote free and open discussion. 

Free speech is more than just a better alternative to censorship. It’s productive, facilitating change. This generation is already striving to leave our mark on America, as every generation has before us, but we cannot do so without free speech. Free speech allowed suffragists like Jane Addams to advocate for the contentious idea of women’s enfranchisement in the early 20th century. Free speech also allowed anti-suffragists like Josephine Dodge to criticize the movement. That’s how permanent change is driven, through unrestricted debate. If one side had been censored, the focus would’ve likely shifted to that fact, rather than the issue at hand and the merits of each argument. Progress would’ve been stifled. 

It’s also important to note the impact of the First Amendment’s equal application on any side of an issue. The restriction of an argument based on the level of its controversiality is directly counterproductive. The idea of female voters was once labeled radical and highly criticized. Therefore, it can be difficult to predict which current, “radical” ideas will become mainstream in a few decades. Each should, accordingly, be equally unrestrained. It’s crucial that we all are allowed to put forth ideas and disagree vocally. This is how we advance together. 

As for Sweezy, he appealed his case to the Supreme Court. The resulting decision of Sweezy v. New Hampshire affirmed the importance of academic freedom of speech. Despite this (and other) legal precedents, cases remarkably similar continue to arise. Just last month, nearly 60 years later, an administrative investigation was opened into Professor Mark Miller at New York University for a propaganda lecture he gave on mask-wearing campaigns. 

Students who disagreed with his presentation, rather than opening a discussion to criticize it, instead went to the school administration in order to have him de-platformed. After reviewing the professor’s argument, I also disagree with his lecture. Yet, it’s critical that his right to free speech be upheld, and that the precedent of silence not be set. 

Policy, whether it be federal, local, or university policy, is influenced by those it affects—us. As the next generation, we have the power to effect change within these climates. Let us learn from our Nation’s history and strive to create a future of open discussion.

Jenna Smith – Kent Place School

Scotch Plains, N.J.

The Realm of True Progress 

The year was 1787. It was a sunny afternoon in Philadelphia. After five months of grueling debates, the framers had finally reached the end of the Constitutional Convention, where they labored tirelessly to craft the great document that we know today. As they emerged from that sweltering room, they were greeted by throngs of engaged Americans waiting to hear what the fate of their country would be. As Benjamin Franklin, one of the eldest participants in the debates, was leaving the building, a woman eagerly approached him and asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin looked the woman in the eyes and responded, without a moment’s hesitation, “A Republic, madam, if you can keep it.” 

If we are to “keep” our republic, as Franklin foretold, then we must actively engage in varied discourse with diverse perspectives. Free speech cannot be separated from the central goal of a republic. A republic is defined by the consent of the governed. However, consent given with limited perspectives, discourse, and information is not true consent. Yet, that is what we would be resigned to without freedom of expression. Free thought enables us to fully debate ideas in order to determine which are the best ones to represent our society. In a country that prides itself on its liberties, freedom of speech should not be treated as a luxury that can be ignored by America’s institutions of higher education or confined to limited “free speech zones.” 

In addition to the immorality of censorship, it is necessary to evaluate its practical criticisms. The central goal of censorship is to eliminate “unwanted” ideas from society. However, an idea cannot simply be erased like the markings on a chalkboard. Ideas ruminate and expand in the minds of all those who come in contact with them, regardless of legislation designed to suppress those thoughts. In fact, the suppression of ideas often leads to an increased public fascination with them. This precisely occurred in the case of anti-vice activist, Anthony Comstock, who staunchly opposed the production and distribution of content relating to sex, abortion, and similar subjects percieved to be obscene. In the midst of his 19th century crusade against said materials, he was successful in prompting the passage of the Comstock Act, which banned all literature deemed “obscene, lewd, lascivious, or filthy” under the Grant administration. His efforts went so far as to permit the search of private mail for obscene content without a warrant. Despite these extreme measures and violations of civil liberties, Comstock was ultimately unsuccessful in eradicating the contested materials from society (19 U.S. Code § 1461), and much of the material he opposed is consumed without restriction today. This instance leads us to the simple truth that censorship does not work, and society is likely better off because of it. 

Some contest unabridged free speech by claiming that the act of barring offensive rhetoric will enable our society to progress past hateful ideologies, such as racism and sexism. However, this logic prioritizes the hatred vocalized over the hatred harbored. Hearts and minds are not changed by the suppression of ideas. Rather, they change through productive conversation and active engagement with varied perspectives. 

When discussing the issue of censorship, one must evaluate the concept in relation to those who do not align with the modern mainstream perspective on issues relating racism, sexism, and other marginalizations. Censorship unequivocally favors the viewpoints of those in power, which is not always—what is widely considered—the morally correct viewpoint. It is vital to note that the pendulum of popular thought will never cease to swing, as what is viewed as moral in 2020 may differ from what is perceived as moral in 2040. The preamble of the Constitution proclaims that the nation should consistently work towards “a more perfect union.” These aforementioned shifts in American consciousness allow the people to develop a deeper understanding of what the core values of the country should be and how they will be embodied in pursuit of this more perfect union. It is unproductive to hinder the movement of ideas by repressing the full scope of public discourse. 

If we venture to transport ourselves back to that summer afternoon in Philadelphia, where Ben Franklin forecasted our nation’s great challenge, we must ask ourselves: are we working to keep the republic? The answer: only if we continue to engage in public debate, continually pushing ourselves towards a more perfect union. A republic cannot function without open conversation. While it may be tempting to lean into the warm embrace of those who agree with our own ideologies, as modern censorship promises, true progress lives in discomfort. Similarly, we cannot claim to champion free speech only when that speech aligns with our beliefs. The true measure of our principles is not found when fighting for those we agree with, but rather for those that we passionately disagree with. We must remember that democracy is not automatic. The free exchange of ideas is the lifeblood of a democratic society.

Margaret Ludwig – Mat-Su Career and Technical High School

Wasilla, Alaska

Fellow Americans, 

When did we become so afraid of one another? When did ostracizing, demeaning, and threatening those who hold different opinions become popular? When did news sources become so biased, reporting in a way that supports a singular narrative and ignores all others? It is difficult to remain hopeful as an American during these times of censorship. I am weary of watching others being degraded by total strangers. I am weary of the fear that explaining my perspective reasonably could destroy my educational and career prospects. I hope that you, too, are weary, and that you will stand with me in changing our culture in a way that will benefit us all. 

Benjamin Franklin asserted that freedom of speech was a “principal pillar of free government,” and that without it, tyranny would be erected on the ruins of free society. The First Amendment of the American Bill of Rights prevent the federal government from abridging the freedom of speech of its citizens, in addition to protecting freedoms of religion, of the press, and of peaceful protest. However, Americans manage to censor each other without the federal government doing so. In American culture, the “majority” consists of those whose opinions mirror those of mainstream media. While “tyranny of the majority” looks very different than it did in the 1830s, when Alexis de Tocqueville described it in Democracy in America , it still adheres to the same general principles. Upon visiting Jacksonian America, Tocqueville’s greatest concern was that public opinion of the majority would overshadow and oppress the minority. While Tocqueville never saw modern America, I can imagine that he would be horrified by the future of censorship it is headed towards. Fear of free speech extends to minorities not only in the spheres of social media and politics, but to those who are less powerful in any sort of conflict. Though such dynamics have always existed in America, as supported by Franklin and Tocqueville, it is more important than ever that opportunities for free speech are acted upon. 

Currently, I feel threatened by the prospect of speaking freely. My school district is attempting to change the application process for my high school, without significant public input and without the support of the vast majority of the student body. The new application has not been widely advertised, and many people are unaware of it. I am one of the principal organizers of a student coalition that aims to raise awareness about and prevent the new application. 

Our student group has had little assistance from school staff; we surmise that they are afraid to speak out against the new system. Writing op-eds to a local newspaper in the hopes of spreading the word is our last resort. Given small-town politics, such an idea feels very risky. We even considered using pseudonyms to avoid repercussions from the district. As I consider the predicament of my organization and of our nation, I fear that such interactions will become the norm in my life, and in the lives of others. My experience is only a small example; fear over speech with much greater consequences stifles the voices of millions of Americans every day. 

One of the most significant threats to freedom of speech is cancel culture. If someone speaks in favor of an opinion that is not favored by the majority, especially online, they risk being censored and losing their livelihoods. Proponents of cancel culture claim that the cancelled deserve the repercussions of their speech; surely those with such offensive ideas deserve suffering. The cancelled are supposedly cruel and ignorant as a result of their ideas, while the cancelers are supposedly “woke” and enlightened. Cancel culture flourishes upon the idea that its participants administer justice. This ideology has resulted in book burnings and the success of oppressive governments across the world. When a society figuratively criminalizes free thought, such thought may later be literally criminalized. Already, people of certain American political affiliations are being blacklisted so that they can later be “reprogrammed” and “held accountable.” Fellow Americans, do we want to live in a world in which any idea that is not accepted by the media invites punishment? Do we want to repeat the lessons taught to us by authoritarian regimes throughout history, or by “Fahrenheit 451” and “1984”? 

It is our duty to speak freely. If we react to censorship with silence, we become complicit in our silencing. If those of us who do not agree with mainstream media, the government, or our friends and family decide that speaking out is not worth the risk, we lose incredible opportunities for discussion. Pretending to agree with ideals that conflict with one’s values makes it impossible for these values to survive, and for differing worldviews to reach understanding and compromise. Therefore, I will continue to speak against the new application. Contemplation of the censorship Americans face has revealed to me that my situation is practice. Given the direction our culture is headed, I may someday stand for something that places me in the way of serious harm. If we do not exercise free speech in the seemingly minor conflicts we face, censorship will prevail easily in the future. 

Fellow Americans, please stand with me. Your small acts of bravery are indescribably valuable. If we continue to fight for what we believe in, we can preserve the spirit of individuality and liberty that defines America.

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Freedom of Speech

By: History.com Editors

Updated: July 27, 2023 | Original: December 4, 2017

A demonstration against restrictions on the sale of alcohol in the united states of America.Illustration showing a demonstration against restrictions on the sale of alcohol in the united states of America 1875. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Freedom of speech—the right to express opinions without government restraint—is a democratic ideal that dates back to ancient Greece. In the United States, the First Amendment guarantees free speech, though the United States, like all modern democracies, places limits on this freedom. In a series of landmark cases, the U.S. Supreme Court over the years has helped to define what types of speech are—and aren’t—protected under U.S. law.

The ancient Greeks pioneered free speech as a democratic principle. The ancient Greek word “parrhesia” means “free speech,” or “to speak candidly.” The term first appeared in Greek literature around the end of the fifth century B.C.

During the classical period, parrhesia became a fundamental part of the democracy of Athens. Leaders, philosophers, playwrights and everyday Athenians were free to openly discuss politics and religion and to criticize the government in some settings.

First Amendment

In the United States, the First Amendment protects freedom of speech.

The First Amendment was adopted on December 15, 1791 as part of the Bill of Rights—the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution . The Bill of Rights provides constitutional protection for certain individual liberties, including freedoms of speech, assembly and worship.

The First Amendment doesn’t specify what exactly is meant by freedom of speech. Defining what types of speech should and shouldn’t be protected by law has fallen largely to the courts.

In general, the First Amendment guarantees the right to express ideas and information. On a basic level, it means that people can express an opinion (even an unpopular or unsavory one) without fear of government censorship.

It protects all forms of communication, from speeches to art and other media.

Flag Burning

While freedom of speech pertains mostly to the spoken or written word, it also protects some forms of symbolic speech. Symbolic speech is an action that expresses an idea.

Flag burning is an example of symbolic speech that is protected under the First Amendment. Gregory Lee Johnson, a youth communist, burned a flag during the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, Texas to protest the Reagan administration.

The U.S. Supreme Court , in 1990, reversed a Texas court’s conviction that Johnson broke the law by desecrating the flag. Texas v. Johnson invalidated statutes in Texas and 47 other states prohibiting flag burning.

When Isn’t Speech Protected?

Not all speech is protected under the First Amendment.

Forms of speech that aren’t protected include:

  • Obscene material such as child pornography
  • Plagiarism of copyrighted material
  • Defamation (libel and slander)
  • True threats

Speech inciting illegal actions or soliciting others to commit crimes aren’t protected under the First Amendment, either.

The Supreme Court decided a series of cases in 1919 that helped to define the limitations of free speech. Congress passed the Espionage Act of 1917, shortly after the United States entered into World War I . The law prohibited interference in military operations or recruitment.

Socialist Party activist Charles Schenck was arrested under the Espionage Act after he distributed fliers urging young men to dodge the draft. The Supreme Court upheld his conviction by creating the “clear and present danger” standard, explaining when the government is allowed to limit free speech. In this case, they viewed draft resistant as dangerous to national security.

American labor leader and Socialist Party activist Eugene Debs also was arrested under the Espionage Act after giving a speech in 1918 encouraging others not to join the military. Debs argued that he was exercising his right to free speech and that the Espionage Act of 1917 was unconstitutional. In Debs v. United States the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Espionage Act.

Freedom of Expression

The Supreme Court has interpreted artistic freedom broadly as a form of free speech.

In most cases, freedom of expression may be restricted only if it will cause direct and imminent harm. Shouting “fire!” in a crowded theater and causing a stampede would be an example of direct and imminent harm.

In deciding cases involving artistic freedom of expression the Supreme Court leans on a principle called “content neutrality.” Content neutrality means the government can’t censor or restrict expression just because some segment of the population finds the content offensive.

Free Speech in Schools

In 1965, students at a public high school in Des Moines, Iowa , organized a silent protest against the Vietnam War by wearing black armbands to protest the fighting. The students were suspended from school. The principal argued that the armbands were a distraction and could possibly lead to danger for the students.

The Supreme Court didn’t bite—they ruled in favor of the students’ right to wear the armbands as a form of free speech in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District . The case set the standard for free speech in schools. However, First Amendment rights typically don’t apply in private schools.

What does free speech mean?; United States Courts . Tinker v. Des Moines; United States Courts . Freedom of expression in the arts and entertainment; ACLU .

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What is the role of free speech in a democratic society?

Book co-edited by prof. geoffrey stone examines evolution, future of first amendment.

Free speech has been an experiment from the start—or at least that’s what Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes suggested nearly a century ago in his dissent in  Abrams v. United States , one of the first decisions to interpret and shape the doctrine that would come to occupy a nearly sacred place in America’s national identity.

Since then, First Amendment jurisprudence has stirred America in novel ways, forcing deep introspection about democracy, society and human nature and sometimes straddling the political divide in unexpected fashion. In the past 100 years, free speech protections have ebbed and flowed alongside America’s fears and progress, adapting to changing norms but ultimately growing in reach.

And now, this piece of the American experiment faces a new set of challenges presented by the ever-expanding influence of technology as well as sharp debates over the government’s role in shaping the public forum.

That’s why Geoffrey R. Stone, the Edward Levi Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago Law School, and Lee Bollinger, the president of Columbia University, two of the country’s leading First Amendment scholars, brought together some of the nation’s most influential legal scholars in a new book to explore the evolution—and the future—of First Amendment doctrine in America. 

The Free Speech Century  (Oxford University Press) is a collection of 16 essays by Floyd Abrams, the legendary First Amendment lawyer; David Strauss, the University of Chicago’s Gerald Ratner Distinguished Service Professor of Law; Albie Sachs, former justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa; Tom Ginsburg, the University of Chicago’s Leo Spitz Professor of International Law; Laura Weinrib, a University of Chicago Professor of Law; Cass Sunstein, a professor at Harvard Law School; and others.

“Lee and I were law clerks together at the Supreme Court during the 1972 term,” Stone said. “I was with Justice Brennan and Lee was with Chief Justice Burger. We have both been writing, speaking and teaching about the First Amendment now for 45 years. This was a good time, we decided, to mark the 100th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s first decision on the First Amendment with a volume that examines four basic themes: The Nature of First Amendment Jurisprudence, Major Critiques and Controversies over Current Doctrine, The International Impact of our First Amendment Jurisprudence, and the Future of Free Speech in a World of Ever-Changing Technology. Our hope is that this volume will enlighten, inspire and challenge readers to think about the role of free speech in a free and democratic society.”

Stone, JD’71, has spent much of his career examining free speech— a topic he first became passionate about as a University of Law School student.

The University has a long tradition of upholding freedom of expression. UChicago’s influential 2015 report by the Committee on Freedom of Expression, which Stone chaired, became a model for colleges and universities across the country.

The collection takes on pressing issues, such as free expression on university campuses, hate speech, the regulation of political speech and the boundaries of free speech on social media, unpacking the ways in which these issues are shaping the norms of free expression.

One essay, for instance, explores how digital behemoths like Facebook, Twitter and Google became “gatekeepers of free expression”—a shift that contributor Emily Bell, a Columbia University journalism professor, writes “leaves us at a dangerous point in democracy and freedom of the press.” Her article examines foreign interference in the 2016 election and explores some of the questions that have emerged since, such as how to balance traditional ideas of a free press with the rights of citizens to hear accurate information in an information landscape that is now dominated by social media.

Technology, the editors write, has presented some of the most significant questions that courts, legal scholars, and the American public will face in the coming decades.

“While vastly expanding the opportunities to participate in public discourse, contemporary means of communication have also arguably contributed to political polarization, foreign influence in our democracy, and the proliferation of ‘fake’ news,” Stone writes in the introduction. “To what extent do these concerns pose new threats to our understanding of ‘the freedom of speech, and of the press’? To what extent do they call for serious reconsideration of some central doctrines and principles on which our current First Amendment jurisprudence is based?”

In another essay, Strauss, an expert in constitutional law, examines the principles established in the 1971 Pentagon Papers case,  New York Times Co. v. United States.  The landmark ruling blocked an attempt at prior restraint by the Nixon administration, allowing the  New York Times  and  Washington Post  to publish a classified report that reporters had obtained about America’s role in Vietnam. The threat to national security wasn’t sufficiently immediate or specific to warrant infringing on the papers’ right to publish, the Court said at the time.

But today’s world is different, Strauss argues. It is easier to leak large amounts of sensitive information—and publication is no longer limited to a handful of media companies with strict ethical guidelines. What’s more, the ease with which information can be shared—digitally as opposed to carefully sneaking papers in batches from locked cabinets to a photocopier, as military analyst Daniel Ellsberg did when leaking the Pentagon Papers—means that a larger number of people can act as leakers. That can include those who don’t fully understand the information they are sharing, which many have argued was the case when former IT contractor Edward Snowden allegedly leaked millions of documents from the National Security Agency in 2013.

“[T]he stakes are great on both sides,” Strauss writes, “and the world has changed in ways that make it important to rethink the way we deal with the problem.”

Ultimately, the health of the First Amendment will depend on two things, Bollinger writes: a continued understanding that free speech plays a critical role in democratic society—and a recognition that the judicial branch doesn’t claim sole responsibility for achieving that vision. The legislative and executive branches can support free speech as well.

What’s more, modern-day challenges do not have to result in an erosion of protections, Bollinger argues.

“[O]ur most memorable and consequential decisions under the First Amendment have emerged in times of national crises, when passions are at their peak and when human behavior is on full display at its worst and at its best, in times of war and when momentous social movements are on the rise,” he writes. “Freedom of speech and the press taps into the most essential elements of life—how we think, speak, communicate, and live within the polity. It is no wonder that we are drawn again and again into its world.”

—Adapted from an article that first appeared on the University of Chicago Law School website.

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The Free Speech Century


The Free Speech Century

Geoffrey R. Stone, Lee C. Bollinger

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Home — Essay Samples — Social Issues — Freedom of Speech — Why Freedom of Speech is Important


Why Freedom of Speech is Important

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Published: Sep 7, 2023

Words: 702 | Pages: 2 | 4 min read

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Introduction, protection of democracy, promotion of civic engagement, protection of human rights, promotion of social justice.

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free speech essay questions

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Click here for our new feature on Presidents & the First Amendment

An examination of all 46 presidents and their engagement with the First Amendment


In the Classroom

free speech essay questions

Academic Freedom and Free Speech

Beyond use in digital or in-person orientation, this lesson can be used for onboarding teaching assistants to give them an overview of their rights in the classroom. The framework for a faculty-led panel on academic freedom can also be used as a Constitution Day activity on campus. From the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

free speech essay questions

Bethel School District v. Fraser (1986)

This lesson is about the 1986 Supreme Court case Bethel School District v. Fraser, which established a school’s ability to prohibit inappropriate student language on campus. From iCivics.

free speech essay questions

Black History Month Lesson

This lesson centers on Frederick Douglass’ acclaimed defense of free expression, “A plea for free speech in Boston.” The material, oriented toward Black History Month, "is also appropriate for lessons on the First Amendment, minority rights, the perils of censorship, and the power of the spoken word."

free speech essay questions

Bullying or First Amendment?


This Media Ethics Initiative case study tackles the question of whether it’s protected by the First Amendment to encourage another person to commit suicide.

Campus Speakers and Counter Protests

Beyond use during digital or in-person orientations, this lesson can be a tool to teach student-government members and student-organization leaders about how the university can and cannot respond to controversial speakers. From the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

free speech essay questions

Can First Amendment Defenses Save Provocateur Alex Jones from the Sandy Hook Libel Suits?


This guide will help educators teach students about the First Amendment and whether or not it protects Alex Jones from libel suits against him from the families of Sandy Hook victims after he claimed the killings of schoolchildren was a hoax. From First Amendment Watch.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010)

Students will learn about Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a 2010 Supreme Court ruling about limiting government restrictions on campaign contributions. From iCivics.org.

Constitution Day Lesson

This special lesson geared to the annual Constitution Day helps teachers present the rationale, history and importance of the First Amendment freedom of speech. Includes a PowerPoint slide deck, summarized readings, and critical-thinking questions.

Coronavirus and Free Speech

In a pandemic, how can scientific inquiry, including disagreements, be openly discussed, without opposing viewpoints being labeled as "misinformation"? This lesson explores the value of freedom of speech in a time of uncertainty and fear.

COVID On Campus: The Pandemic’s Impact on Student and Faculty Speech Rights

On campuses across the country, speech and due-process rights have been challenged as administrators struggle to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. See how these trends have affected vital student and faculty rights in higher education. From the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Current Free Speech Issues

This lesson "explores some of the current controversies around free speech in education through various activities, videos, DBQs, and discussion-focused questions. Students will learn about some of the most popular arguments against free speech and how to respond to them, as well as why it can be important to voice your opinion, even if it’s an unpopular one."

Debate Activity Kit

"Students who wish to be effective, persuasive communicators must develop argumentation skills. This unit includes sample debate topics, instruction on how to form a powerful argument, and activities designed to help students build comfort with taking, defending, and challenging competing positions on controversial topics."

Defending Freedom of Tweets?

When professional football player Rashard Mendenhall tweeted about celebrations surrounding the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, he gained the ire of many Americans. This case study explores the story of Mendenhall’s tweets and the freedom of speech. From the Media Ethics Initiative.

Do I Have a Right?

This iCivics lesson, formatted as a game quest, will teach students about their First Amendment rights as they protect their “law clients.”

free speech essay questions

Free Expression on Social Media


Social media platforms are private companies, which means they can censor material posted on them according to their own rules and regulations. This primer shows major social media platforms’ policies on hate speech, obscenity, misinformation and harassment. A primer from the Freedom Forum.

free speech essay questions

Free Speech and the First Amendment


This lesson teaches elementary schoolers about the First Amendment, focusing on Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969). From the First Amendment Museum.

Free Speech Essentials: 2021 Snapping Back at Snapchat

This exercise from the Freedom Forum asks: Do schools have the right to punish students for online speech when they are off campus?

Free Speech Essentials: Critical Debates

This lesson plan can be used with any of the case studies in the Freedom Forum’s Free Speech Essentials collection.

Free Speech in America vs. Other Countries

"Drawing from the life and journey of NBA star Enes Kanter Freedom, this mini-lesson highlights the unique protections of the First Amendment in the United States in comparison with restrictions abroad."

free speech essay questions

Free Speech on College Campuses


This lesson provides key concepts, materials and readings on Free Speech on campus for both private and public colleges. From the Free Speech Center.

Free-Speech Case Studies

The Media Ethics Initiative provides various articles on topics related to the First Amendment, complete with discussion questions. 

free speech essay questions

Freedom of Expression, Online: Outlining the First Amendment for Teenagers


This lesson, provided by The New York Times, teaches students about how the First Amendment applies online, especially to bloggers.

free speech essay questions

Freedom of Speech and Automatic Language: Examining the Pledge of Allegiance


Provided by Read Write Think, this instructional plan helps students to think about the meaning behind the Pledge of Allegiance and how they use their freedom of speech.

free speech essay questions

Freedom of Speech…Always Protected?

The United States Capitol Historical Society provides this lesson plan on the history of the First Amendment and freedom of speech.

Gaming Platforms and Shocking Speech

This Media Ethics Initiative case study discusses the ethics of Twitch’s hate-speech policies.

Handling Offensive Speech

This lesson looks at how people cope socially and emotionally with unwelcome but protected speech, and covers ways that students can develop skills of resilience, refutation, and self-advocacy. Bonus section: Teaching Healthy Discourse.

free speech essay questions

How are NFL Protests Related to Symbolic Speech and the First Amendment?

This First Amendment Watch teacher guide discusses NFL “take a knee” protests and their relation to the First Amendment.

free speech essay questions

Is Your Speech Free?: The First Amendment


California Courts presents this lesson on the First Amendment, focusing specifically on the freedom of speech and what types of speech are considered protected.

Is Your Speech Protected by the First Amendment?

This interactive guide helps determine whether certain speech is protected by the First Amendment with four simple questions. A primer from the Freedom Forum.

free speech essay questions

Learning from the headlines: Video games and the Supreme Court


Students will use this lesson to learn about video games and why the First Amendment keeps the government from restricting access to them. From the Student Press Law Center.

Limits to Free Speech

This video can serve as a resource on campus web pages explaining student-speech rights, teaching incoming students about when speech crosses the line and loses First Amendment protection. This module focuses primarily on defining and providing examples of freedom of speech limitations, such as harassment, true threats, intimidation, and other unlawful conduct. From the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Lookin’ for Evidence

Students will examine a case about band-themed T-shirts in high school and use evidence to build arguments about whether or not the T-shirts are disruptive. From iCivics.org.

free speech essay questions

Norman Rockwell, Freedom of Speech: Know It When You See It


This lesson will have students examine the works of Norman Rockwell and analyze the First Amendment. From Lesson Planet.

Offensive Speech on Campus

The video adaptation of this lesson and the script can be used in digital or in-person program orientations to teach students tactics for responding to offensive speech and when offensive speech loses First Amendment protection. From the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Postal Censorship in the World War I Era

Targeted for 8th-grade students, this lesson focuses on propaganda and censorship during World War I. From the First Amendment Museum.

Sacking Social Media in College Sports

This Media Ethics Initiative case study discusses the trend of coaches’ banning their athletes from social media and whether or not this practice is ethical.

Social Media and Online Speech Rights

This lesson in programming explains IT policies or codes of conduct. The video can also be placed on university web pages explaining student rights or IT policies. From the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Social Media Censorship

Video lesson on "legal considerations and competing interests involved in social media censorship of 'misinformation' about the coronavirus, and steps tech companies are taking to elevate information from authoritative sources."

free speech essay questions

Social Media, the Classroom and the First Amendment


The First Amendment Center and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation present this guide on social media and the First Amendment for middle and high school teachers, including lesson plans, resources and more.

Speech, Power, and Censorship in American History

"Free-speech rights have proven themselves essential in securing a fair hearing for demands for justice and equal Constitutional protection for marginalized groups and isolated, targeted individuals throughout U.S. history. This module examines the crucial role of free speech in the Abolitionist, Women’s Suffrage, and Civil Rights movements."

free speech essay questions

Spotlight on Speech Codes 2022

This annual report condenses the considerable research in FIRE’s Spotlight database into an accessible picture of the state of free expression on our nation’s campuses. The report surveys speech codes at America’s largest and most prestigious colleges and universities, providing readers with key data on individual schools and national trends.

Stipulating Speech

Students will learn about the restrictions of the First Amendment in this iCivics lesson, from Supreme Court rulings to speech codes on college campuses.

Stopping the Spread of Anti-Vax Memes

This case study examines anti-vax memes on Facebook and other social media platforms and whether or not the best solution is to ban them. From the Media Ethics Initiative.

free speech essay questions

Student Clothing and the First Amendment


Education World offers this lesson plan on how freedom of speech and freedom of religion affect what students can wear at school.

free speech essay questions

Student Rights and the Freedom of Expression


A lesson plan from the Bill of Rights Institute delving into students’ free-speech rights on school grounds.

free speech essay questions

Studying Abroad, Speaking Out: How U.S. Universities Approach Expression in Study-Abroad Programs

Study-abroad programs have experienced extensive changes recently due to COVID-19, but while the logistics of travel are different and may remain changed in coming years, the underlying freedom of expression issues remain constant. From the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Talking Across Differences

Beyond use in digital or in-person orientations, this video adaptation can be placed on university web pages explaining student rights, or on diversity and inclusion pages, to give a fuller picture of how to embrace difficult conversations. From the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Teaching Healthy Discourse

An important way to develop student respect for freedom of speech is to teach them how to have "meaningful conversations with their peers."

Texas v. Johnson (1989)

Students will use this iCivics lesson to learn about Texas v. Johnson, the 1989 case in which the Supreme Court ruled that burning the American flag is protected by the First Amendment.

The Bill of Rights and Free Speech

Two lessons examining why free speech is vital for self-government and how freedom of speech has been both limited and expanded. From the Bill of Rights Institute.

The Emperor's New Clothes

What do you do when you see something absurd. Do you speak up? Working from Hans Christian Andersen’s fable “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” "this lesson examines the importance of thinking for oneself, even if everyone else disagrees."

The First Amendment: Freedom of Expression

Students will use this lesson to explore free expression under the First Amendment and the Constitution. From Lesson Planet.

The First Amendment: What’s Fair in a Free Country

Students will discuss examples of speech and whether or not they’re protected under the First Amendment, as well as apply the First Amendment to their own lives. From Lesson Planet.

The Law and Free Speech

This lesson "explores the landmark cases and legal reasoning behind the strong speech protections that Americans uniquely enjoy, while correcting some common misconceptions."

The Targeting of Scholars for Ideological Reasons From 2015 to Present

This research documents the ways and reasons that scholars have faced calls for sanction; how scholars and institutional administrators have responded to different forms of targeting; and what (if any) sanctions scholars have ultimately faced. From the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Three Arguments in Defense of Free Expression

From the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, this video can serve as a resource on university web pages explaining student-speech rights.

Tinker v. Des Moines

This video from the Bill of Rights Institute’s Homework Help series analyzes how a student protest against the Vietnam War went all the way to the Supreme Court.

Tinker v. Des Moines (1969)

This iCivics lesson teaches students about the Supreme Court decision that extended First Amendment free-speech rights to students at school, Tinker v. Des Moines.

West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943)

Students will learn about West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, the 1943 Supreme Court case that determined that it was unconstitutional for schools to force students to salute the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. From iCivics.org.

What (Not?) To Wear: Liberties and Limits of Clothing at School

High school students will explore the liberties and limits of speech and expression in schools in this First Amendment Museum lesson.

free speech essay questions

When government employees are not allowed to speak to the media


This primer covers which government employees are not allowed to speak to the news media and the First Amendment implications of these restrictions. From the University of Georgia School of Law.

You Can’t Say That in School? Allowed or Not Allowed

Using laws and writings that influenced the development of the First Amendment, students “vote off” proposed amendments from the time period. From the Freedom Forum.

You Can’t Say That: In My Opinion

Students use their First Amendment knowledge to weigh in on a current First Amendment issue or controversy via multimedia response pieces in this Freedom Forum lesson plan.

You Can’t Say That: Right to Know vs. Security Risk

Students in this Freedom Forum exercise engage in a simulated high-stakes debate over a national security situation that highlights the causes and effects of tensions between journalists and government officials.

'The Press and the Civil Rights Movement' Video Lesson

This video from the Freedom Forum explores the interplay between a free press and the civil rights movement’s fight for equality.

A Quick Guide to Libel Law

The Freedom Forum presents a crash course on everything you need to know about libel law.

‘Know Your Rights’ for journalists reporting on protests

This resource provides access to an information sheet for what a journalist should do while reporting on a protest. From the University of Georgia School of Law.

Ben Franklin and the First Amendment

A major influential champion of freedom of the press during the founding and formation of the United States was Benjamin Franklin. "This lesson takes a look at two of Franklin’s works— Silence Dogood No. 8 and “On the Freedom of the Press”—in order to gain insight into his thinking" about both press freedom and freedom of speech.

free speech essay questions

Can Public Officials Block Critics from Their Social Media Accounts Consistent with the First Amendment?

Teachers can use this First Amendment Watch guide to teach about the impact on the First Amendment when public officials block critics on social media.

Do celebs have a right to a private life?

Students will examine the First Amendment and the right to privacy in this Lesson Planet activity.

Doxing and Digital Journalism

In this case study, readers will examine the ethics of doxing – publishing someone’s private identifying information – in relation to digital journalism, focusing on HuffPost’s covering of Amy Mekelburg and her far-right Twitter account. From the Media Ethics Initiative.

free speech essay questions

First Things First: Using the Newspaper to Teach the Freedoms of the First Amendment

Presented by Newspaper Association of America Foundation, this guide is full of activities to teach elementary, middle and high school students about the First Amendment.

Free Expression & Censorship: Banned Books

This Freedom Forum lesson plan helps young students understand what it means to have the freedom to express ideas through books and drawings.

Free Press Challenges Through History: Analyzing Historical Sources

Freedom of the press is much simpler in theory than in practice. In this Freedom Forum activity, students use the E.S.C.A.P.E. strategy to closely analyze a historical source, shedding light on how freedom of the press has ignited controversy and drawing comparisons to today’s debates over the role of the news media.

Freedom of Information Law (Public Records) Presentation

This Student Press Law Center presentation teaches about freedom of information laws and their importance in journalism. It’s available as a PDF, with and without notes, and as a prerecorded video.

A video overview from the Bill of Rights Institute, including landmark press-freedom Supreme Court cases.

free speech essay questions

Freedom of the Press and Democracy

This overview of press freedoms explains why government accountability is critical to a functioning democracy. From the News Leaders Association.

Freedom of the Press and Newspaper Theft on Campus

Explores the importance of a free press and "why newspaper theft—an unfortunate incident that sometimes takes place on American college campuses—is wrong.

Freedom of the Press Clause: Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier

Video discussion examining this Supreme Court case in exploring how free-press protections apply to student journalism. From the Bill of Rights Institute.

Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier (1988)

This iCivics lesson teaches students about the Supreme Court decision that established a school principal’s right to censor students’ school newspaper, Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier.

free speech essay questions

Journalism Tips and Lesson Plans


SchoolJournalism.org offers a variety of resources on the First Amendment, journalism and news literacy for teachers and students.

Know Your Rights: First Amendment and Censorship

Students can use this Student Press Law Center primer to learn about their own First Amendment rights at school and how they’re limited.

Know Your Rights: Freedom of Information

This primer tells students what they need to know about freedom of information at both public and private colleges. From the Student Press Law Center.

Law & Ethics for Photojournalists

Students will learn about the First Amendment’s relationship to photojournalism and the ethics involved in it. From Lesson Planet.

Leaks and the Media

What is a leak? Is leaking illegal? Are journalists protected for publishing classified information? This interactive guide from the Freedom Forum answers a variety of questions about leaks and whistleblowing.

Learning from the headlines: World Press Freedom Day 2011

This Student Press Law Center lesson plan, based around World Press Freedom Day, teaches about the important of the First Amendment and freedom of the press.

free speech essay questions

National Coalition Against Censorship


NCAC provides many books about censorship at school and how to fight it for students.

NCAC provides many books about censorship at school and how to fight it for parents, teachers and school officials.

New York Times v. Sullivan

Bill of Rights Institute lesson plan examining how this landmark 1964 Supreme Court case protected press freedom even when errors are published, as long as there is no “actual malice” in publishing them.

Newsgathering and Privacy

Did you know the First Amendment protects the right of news reporters and citizen journalists to report on matters of public concern? This Free Speech Center lesson further explores news gathering, reporting and privacy and how it is protected.

More and more online news sites are disallowing comments. Is this an unethical decision, or is it just a necessary measure to eliminate irrelevant and uncivil comments? This Media Ethics Initiative case study tackles these questions.

free speech essay questions

Online censorship: public officials blocking citizens on social media

This resource discusses the First Amendment impacts of public officials blocking users on social media. From the University of Georgia School of Law.

Press Freedom Presentation

This presentation teaches about the free press rights of student journalists. Available in PDF and video formats. From the Student Press Law Center.

Press-Related Espionage Act Prosecutions

This interactive chart, created by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, provides information about prosecution against whistleblowers under the Espionage Act.

Prior review & prior restraint in school-sponsored media

This University of Georgia School of Law primer teaches about prior restraint and what student journalists should do if censored by their school administration.

free speech essay questions

The First Amendment and Student Media


The Principal’s Guide to Scholastic Journalism presents a breakdown of the First Amendment rights of student journalists. Sponsored by the News Leaders Association.

free speech essay questions

The Price of a Free Press: Is Journalism Worth Dying For?

This lesson plan, provided by PBS’s POV, teaches students about the value of journalism and a free press using clips from the documentary film “Reportero.”

The Quick Guide to Spotting Fake News

This primer from the Freedom Forum offers a few quick ways to determine whether an article is fake news.

The Role of Student Publications on Campus

The video adaptation of this lesson and the script can be used during digital or in-person journalism-program orientations or class lectures, or as part of remarks while onboarding new student newspaper staff. From the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Under Pressure: The Warning Signs of Student Newspaper Censorship

Too often, student journalists are expected to act as publicists rather than journalists. And when they stray from the misplaced expectations of administrators — and sometimes even their fellow students — student journalists may face consequences. From the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Using the Newspaper to Teach the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment

This unit plan features lessons that use newspaper articles and historical texts to discuss and explore the First Amendment. From Lesson Planet.

Why Burn Books?

Students will discuss the role of books in freedom of the press and speech, as well as the reasons for and effects of censorship. From Lesson Planet.

World Press Freedom Map

Use this Freedom Forum activity to explore the state of press freedoms around the world.

3Rs & First Amendment Framework

This foundational Freedom Forum module examines the three models of religious liberty in public schools: the “sacred public school, “naked public school,” and “civic public school.” It also introduces the 3Rs of religious freedom.

free speech essay questions

America’s First Freedom Curriculum

America’s First Freedom is a supplementary unit of study created by Religious Freedom Institute to teach American high schoolers about religious freedom.

First Amendment Principles and Jefferson’s ‘Wall’

Essay discussing Thomas Jefferson’s views on a “wall of separation” between church and state. From the Bill of Rights Institute.

"The first right listed in the First Amendment is the freedom of religion. This unit explores what it means to have freedom from and freedom of religion through discussion of key issues such as the Lemon test and the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses."

History of Religion & Public Schools

This Freedom Forum module serves as a brief historical overview of the relationship between religion and public schools. Participants will also examine how that relationship has changed over time and the impact of these issues on public schools today.

Living with Our Deepest Differences

People from all different religions live and thrive in America thanks to the religious liberty protected by the First Amendment. This Freedom Forum First Amendment Center guide posted by the Religious Freedom Center provides lesson plans and resources for educators to use to teach students about religious liberty.

Religion in Public Schools

This lesson presents two diametrically opposed situations involving religion in public secondary schools, toward fostering an understanding of the two clauses of the First Amendment pertaining to religion. From the Free Speech Center.

Religion in the Curriculum

This Freedom Forum module sets-out guidelines for teaching about religion in public schools. It explores how religion can be naturally incorporated into a curriculum; examines why it is important to address religion in academics; and considers the risks of ignoring or not teaching about religious traditions.

Religious Expression & Practice in Public Schools

Students do not leave their religious identities behind when they go to school, and the free- exercise clause protects their rights to religious expression and practice. This Freedom Forum module examines the protections, and limitations, of the free-exercise clause for students in public schools.

Religious Liberty and the Supreme Court

Lesson plan explaining “how the doctrine of incorporation broadened the application of the First Amendment,” particularly in regard to religious freedom. From the Bill of Rights Institute.

Religious Liberty: Landmark Supreme Court Cases

A thorough list of cases, many with lessons associated, from the Bill of Rights Institute.

Religious Liberty: The American Experiment

Resources and lessons including landmark Supreme Court cases on religious liberty, from the Bill of Rights Institute.

The Constitution, the First Amendment, and Religious Liberty

Essay from the Bill of Rights Institute reviewing the development of religious liberty in the U.S.

The Establishment Clause

From the Bill of Rights Institute’s Homework Help series, this video looks into “the proper relationship between church and state” from historical and legal perspectives.

The Establishment Clause & Public Schools

The First Amendment’s establishment clause prevents the government from creating any law “respecting an establishment of religion” or that privileges one religion over another. This Freedom Forum module examines the purpose and scope of the clause, what constitutes a violation of the provision, and common issues in public schools where the establishment clause might apply.

The Establishment Clause – How Separate Are Church and State?

Lesson plan from the Bill of Rights Institute teaches how the First Amendment protects religious belief.

free speech essay questions

The Great Awakening


This lesson from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History teaches about the Great Awakening, a series of important religious revivals in Colonial America. These revivals connect to the Colonists’ desire to declare independence and the eventual writing of the First Amendment.

Towards Separation of Church and State in Gloucester

This Lesson Planet exercise explores New England government in the 1700s, discussing the significance of various documents and their connection to freedom of religion in America.

What Is the Significance of the Free-Exercise Clause?

Lesson plan explaining why this religious-freedom clause is important. From the Bill of Rights Institute.

You Can’t Say That in School? The Case of Lee v. Weisman

Students analyze a 1992 Supreme Court case about religion in public schools, drawing on their First Amendment knowledge to support their own conclusions about how the court should have ruled. From the Freedom Forum.

Classroom Walk-Outs and School Protests

These questions and answers give students, parents, teachers, school administrators and lawyers all they need to know about school protests. A primer from the Freedom Forum.

Free Speech and the Ethics of Protest

From the Media Ethics Initiative. Readers will learn about free speech and protest on college campus in this case study, focusing on Young Conservatives of Texas’s 2016 protest against University of Texas’s affirmative-action program.

Freedom of Assembly in the 1960s Civil Rights and Antiwar Movements

Lesson plan from the Free Speech Center on how protesters used their freedom of peaceable assembly to push for change.

free speech essay questions

Freedom of Assembly: National Socialist Party v. Skokie

This video examines a Supreme Court case involving a Nazi march through a mostly Jewish neighborhood in Illinois, placing the case in the context of the First Amendment freedom of peaceable assembly. From Annenberg Classroom.

Freedom of Assembly: The Right to Protest

This Annenberg Classroom lesson will focus on freedom of assembly as established in the First Amendment. Students will consider the importance of the right to assemble and protest by analyzing cases where First Amendment rights were in question.

Protest Primer

Why do people protest? Where can people assemble? What limits can the government put on protests? This primer from the Freedom Forum answers these questions and more.

Right to Protest

Among the questions explored in this lesson are what constitutes a legally protected protest and what the limits are. The lesson also looks at "controversial forms of protest."

Student Protest Then and Now

Beyond use during digital or in-person orientations, this lesson can be used in first-year experience seminars so students can participate in discussions about the history presented and its relationship to current events on campus. This lesson can be particularly useful for teaching international students about the history of free speech on American campuses. From the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

The Right to Peacefully Assemble

This teacher guide covers the First Amendment right to assemble peaceably. From First Amendment Watch.

Truckers, Protests, Emergency Acts, and an American Convoy

Exploring the meaning of protest, and its boundaries, the lesson focuses on Canadian and then American truck drivers who flooded national capitals to object to COVID restrictions and requirements. "Were they within their rights?" the lesson asks. "Did they go too far?"

free speech essay questions

Constitution Clips: 'petition the government'


A brief video tour of the National Archives’ “Amending America” exhibit serves as a learning tool on the right of petition. Includes a video about lobbying. From C-SPAN Classroom.

Declaration of Complaints

This Lesson Planet lesson will help students learn about the right to petition and assembly by writing their own declaration of complaints.

free speech essay questions

Freedom of Assembly & Petition lesson plan


From the National Constitution Center. Students will look into two of the founding freedoms of the First Amendment and how citizens can use these rights in our democratic republic.

free speech essay questions

Let’s Start a Petition lesson plan


This American Bar Association teaching resource “discusses the constitutional right to petition, and how petitions have been used in American history.” Includes a handout, found at https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/public_education/Lawday/2020/Petition_examples_handouts.pdf

Perseverance and the First Amendment

Students will use this lesson to learn about the rights to petition and assembly and research some of the groups that have used them. From Lesson Planet.

Petitioning the Government

Lesson plan illustrating how the right to petition the government to correct a wrong or achieve a goal is fundamental to the workings of a democratic republic. From the Free Speech Center.

free speech essay questions

Write a Petition

Students will learn how to write a petition for change in this activity from the National Constitution Center.

1st Amendment Freedoms Choice Board

In this First Amendment video overview from C-SPAN Classroom, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., talks about the meaning of the First Amendment.

A Study of the First Amendment Rights in the Bill of Rights

In this Lesson Planet exercise, students will analyze Supreme Court cases to learn about the five freedoms of the First Amendment. For grades 4-6.

‘45 Words’ Video Lesson

Actor Martin Sheen narrates this story of the political struggles involved in establishing the First Amendment and early challenges to it. From the Freedom Forum.

Battle for the Bill of Rights: Freedom Stations

This Freedom Forum classroom activity asks students to find examples of people using their First Amendment freedoms.

Battle for the Bill of Rights: Ultimate Survivor Amendment Game

Using laws and writings that influenced the development of the First Amendment, students “vote off” proposed amendments from the time period in this Freedom Forum exercise.

Battle for the Bill of Rights: Ultimate Survivor Amendment Game (Lesson Planet)

Similar to the Freedom Forum game, students will learn about the First Amendment by creating their own draft amendments and voting for the most important. From Lesson Planet.

Bill of Rights (1791)

The text of the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, with discussion, from the Bill of Rights Institute.

Bill of Rights Day

This lesson plan, created for 5th-graders, contains a wide variety of activities focusing on the Bill of Rights, from illustrations to a mock trial. From Lesson Planet.

Students in grades 8-10 will use this lesson to learn about the Bill of Rights and the circumstances leading to its writing. From Lesson Planet.

In this Lesson Planet activity, students in grades 9-12 will analyze the Bill of Rights and research the First Amendment and others.

Bill of Rights Institute

The Bill of Rights Institute offers a variety of guides and lesson plans based on constitutional principles, including the First Amendment.

Don’t Let Your Rights Be Violated

This Lesson Planet lesson, made for 9th-graders, will help students to understand the First Amendment and its impact on their daily lives.

FAQ: The First Amendment and Campus Life

This FAQ can be handed out to new students. Additionally, the text or video can be used on university web pages explaining student rights. From the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

free speech essay questions

First Amendment and Censorship


The AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION offers a primer on censorship and the First Amendment, as well as links to other relevant resources.

First Amendment and the Future

Students will conduct a survey centered around the First Amendment and use it to analyze how aspects of the First Amendment come into play at school. From Lesson Planet.

First Amendment Matters PSA contest

This annual contest run by Schooljournalism.org challenges students to write a public-service announcement that explains and affirms the importance of the First Amendment.

First Amendment Rights

This lesson, written by Lesson Planet for 5th-graders, will help students to analyze the First Amendment and use it to solve a school-related issue.

free speech essay questions

First Amendment Then and Now


These six short films, produced by the Tully Center for Free Speech at the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, teach about different Supreme Court cases and other topics related to the First Amendment.

First Amendment Timeline

The Free Speech Center’s compilation of significant historical events, court cases, and ideas that have shaped First Amendment law as we know it today.

This Annenberg Classroom timeline traces developments in the history of our First Amendment freedoms: religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.

First Amendment: Bill of Rights

From Lesson Planet: 12th-graders will learn about the First Amendment and its day-to-day importance in their lives with this lesson.

free speech essay questions

Freedom of Expression: The First Amendment

Provided by the California Courts, this lesson plan focuses on the Bill of Rights, specifically the five freedoms of the First Amendment.

Intro to the First Amendment: Would You Fight for All Five?

Students explore the interplay among the five First Amendment freedoms as they play an elimination game to determine the most important freedom. From the Freedom Forum.

Introduction to the First Amendment: My Five Freedoms

Students will be able to define the five freedoms of the First Amendment and provide examples of how they exercise these freedoms in their lives. From the Freedom Forum.

Introduction to the First Amendment: What’s a Violation?

Students apply their knowledge of the First Amendment to specific scenarios to determine when those freedoms are protected and when they are not. From the Freedom Forum.

It’s Your Right: A Civil Rights Brochure

Students will examine the Bill of Rights, the Constitution and other resources to create a brochure about a civil rights topic. From Lesson Planet.

Law & First Amendment

From Schooljournalism.org, two days of lessons created by ASNE, now the News Leaders Association, on First Amendment law. Other resources can also be found on this page.

Learn Your Five Freedoms Group Activity

Students will learn about the five freedoms of the First Amendment through this group activity from the First Amendment Museum.

free speech essay questions

Learning About Liberty: Facilitating First Amendment Engagement Among American University Students

A report summarizing best practices for educators to approach and promote advocacy and engagement around the First Amendment’s five freedoms.

Lessons in Liberty

First Amendment hypotheticals for classroom use, developed by the Poynter Institute’s Press Pass program in partnership with the Free Speech Center.

Making the Law Come Alive: Teaching the First Amendment Through Contemporary Conflicts

First Amendment Watch at New York University offers many lesson plans and teacher guides on the First Amendment, each relating to issues America faces today. 

Making the Most of the Five Freedoms

Students build on research from “The First Amendment in Action Today” lesson to create, execute and document a plan of action to address a community issue. From the Freedom Forum.

Materiales Educativos en Español

"En este módulo de lección, encontrarás tres presentaciones en español que puedes usar para explicarles a tus estudiantes sobre los elementos filosóficos, históricos, y jurídicos de la Primera Enmienda de la Constitución Estadounidense."

free speech essay questions

National Endowment for the Humanities


The National Endowment for the Humanities provides hundreds of “EDSITEment” lesson plans, including First Amendment lesson plans such as The First Amendment: What’s Fair in a Free Country?

free speech essay questions

Our Constitution: The Bill of Rights (Grades 10-12)

From the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, a lesson for grades 10-12 on the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment.

Our Constitution: The Bill of Rights (Grades 4-6)

Students in grades 4 through 6 can use this lesson to learn about the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment. From the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

free speech essay questions

PBS NewsHour Classroom


These resources, created by PBS, teach students about issues America faces today, helping them understand the importance of civics. (This resource is the new version of PBS NewsHour EXTRA. The old content on EXTRA has not been fully converted to Classroom and is currently accessible at https://www.pbs.org/newshour/classroom/.)

Recommended Common Reads from FIRE and First Amendment Watch

From banned books that warn against censorial regimes to international stories about fighting censorship to books chronicling the First Amendment’s role in America’s media landscape, this list has a book or document fit for any academic program. From the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Study Aid: The Bill of Rights

This study aid will help students remember which rights are protected by each amendment. From the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

Supreme Interpreters

This iCivics lesson, formatted as a web quest, will have students analyze Supreme Court cases that interpreted the First Amendment, as well as explain the role of the Supreme Court in interpreting the Constitution.

Take the Bill of Rights quiz!

As valuable as the Bill of Rights is, most Americans know very little about it. Test your own knowledge — and your students’ — by taking the Free Speech Center's quiz.

Take the Great 4th of July quiz!

In 1776, our founders risked their lives to publish a Declaration of Independence. Those early Americans sought “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” by creating a nation founded on freedom. This Free Speech Center quiz tests knowledge of the Declaration of Independence.

The Bill of Rights

This lesson, targeted toward 9th-graders, will teach students about the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment. From Lesson Planet.

The Constitution and Rights

This learning resource from Lesson Planet will help teachers begin educating their students about the Bill of Rights.

The First Amendment

In this lesson, 11th-graders will analyze the First Amendment through surveys and evaluation. From Lesson Planet.

This worksheet from Lesson Planet, made for 4th- and 5th-graders, will help students analyze the First Amendment and its importance in their lives.

The First Amendment and School

With this lesson plan, teachers will lead students through a First Amendment-related story, asking questions and prompting debate along the way to help students think more deeply about the five freedoms. From the First Amendment Museum.

The First Amendment Encyclopedia

This comprehensive Free Speech Center resource boasts “more entries on the First Amendment than any other work of its kind.” With more than 1,500 searchable entries, it can give you information on any First Amendment question you might wish to explore in class.

The First Amendment in Action Today

Students research an individual or group using the First Amendment to solve a community issue, then turn their findings into digital posters. From the Freedom Forum.

The Law: Your Rights and Responsibilities

This lesson explores the rights of the First Amendment and the responsibilities that come with it. From Lesson Planet.

The Philosophy of Free Speech

This course from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression "reviews the unique inheritance of basic rights and freedoms bestowed on all American citizens by our founding documents, which draw from Enlightenment conceptions of liberty and individual human dignity. It also covers the essential role of open discourse and reasoning in examining evidence and seeking truth."

The Sedition Act of 1798

This First Amendment Watch guide will help educators teach about the Sedition Act of 1798 https://firstamendment.mtsu.edu/article/sedition-act-of-1798/ and its impact on the First Amendment at the time.

The Story of the Bill of Rights

A series of 10 short documentary videos, one for each amendment in the Bill of Rights, showing how each freedom came through controversy to ratification by the Founding Fathers.

Understanding the First Amendment

The Freedom Forum presents these resources for educating about the First Amendment, including training, lesson plans and more.

Webinar: Advocacy Amplified Through the First Amendment

Learn how activists in past social movements leveraged the power of First Amendment to bring about change, then dissect persuasive techniques used to shape public opinion and their application to current issues. From the Freedom Forum.

What If There Were No First Amendment?

Can you envision life in the United States without the five freedoms of the First Amendment? This exercise from the Free Speech Center will help instill a greater understanding and appreciation for the freedoms the First Amendment guarantees and protects.

Women's History Month Lesson

"This character-building lesson, designed for Women’s History Month, offers students an empowering glimpse into the many achievements and profound emotional strength of one of America’s most admired First Ladies."

You’ve Got Rights!

This lesson teaches students about the rights guaranteed to them by the Bill of Rights. From iCivics.org

free speech essay questions

Your 1st Amendment Rights


This primer, presented by Judicial Learning Center, teaches students about the rights protected by the First Amendment, using case studies and other activities.

Classes will use this Lesson Planet lesson to discuss the First Amendment and why students should care about it.

My Speech Class

Public Speaking Tips & Speech Topics

Speech and Essay Samples

Don’t know where to start? Get inspired by our  FREE speech and essay examples .

Use them to get the creative juices flowing . Don’t copy any of these examples! Since these speeches are available for anyone to download, you can never be sure that another student has not used them, and that they will pass plagiarism evaluation tools, such as Turnitin or Plagscan.

Whether you find a sample that is on your given topic or a closely related discussion, all of the speeches can help you get organized and focused.

Review multiple speeches to learn:

  • How the presenter laid out the talking points and the number of points used
  • What references and statistics they used to solidify their arguments
  • How long the speech was for a given topic
  • How the topic was introduced and summarized
  • How the speaker engaged and interacted with the audience

By using these speech examples as an outline, you’ll have a fully formed presentation in no time ! We also have this page with gun control speech examples , in case you’d like to see different examples on the same topic.

Persuasive Speeches

  • Birth Control Persuasive Speech
  • We should stand up for our gun rights
  • The truth about gun control
  • The controversy over gun control
  • Speech against stricter gun control
  • It’s up to society to solve gun problems
  • Guns don’t kill people
  • Does banning firearms help prevent homicides
  • Criminals will be criminals
  • What to do about Deadbeat Parents
  • Why state aid applicants need to be drug tested
  • Subculture is Mainstream
  • Eating Healthy
  • Teachers should be paid more
  • Digital Piracy
  • Minimum Wage
  • Drug Testing for State Aid
  • Drug testing welfare
  • Why snakes make good pets
  • Why you need to quit drinking soda
  • Why Everyone Should Learn to Play an Instrument
  • Why Android is better then IOS 2
  • Why Android is better then IOS 1
  • Video Games Do Not Cause Violence
  • Soda and Obesity
  • Plastic Surgery 2
  • Plastic Surgery
  • Maintaining A Healthy Lifestyle
  • Human development depends primarily on environmental factors
  • Donating Blood
  • Birth Control Persuasive Speech Example with Outline
  • Social Media Persuasive Speech Example with Outline
  • Texting and Driving Persuasive Speech Example with Outline
  • Persuasive Speech on Sleep
  • Persuasive Speech about Bullying
  • Persuasive Speech on Organ Donation

Informative Speeches

  • Guns and gun control - Texas
  • Gun violence and control
  • Gun control on campuses
  • Wind Energy
  • About Serial Killers
  • Eating Disorder
  • Robin Williams 2
  • Dream Types
  • Separation of Powers of the Federal Government
  • Memory Loss
  • Internet Black Market
  • Blood Donation
  • Alcohol in Winter
  • About Guitar
  • Social Media Informative Speech Example with Outline
  • Texting and Driving Informative Speech Example with Outline
  • Informative Speech on Sleep
  • Informative Speech about Bullying
  • Free Organ Donation Informative Speech
  • Free Informative Speech on Caffeine and Its Effects
  • Five Side Effects of Global Warming
  • Global Warming Is Real

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Guest Essay

Is This the End of Academic Freedom?

free speech essay questions

By Paula Chakravartty and Vasuki Nesiah

Dr. Chakravartty is a professor of media, communication and culture at New York University, where Dr. Nesiah is a professor of practice in human rights and international law.

​At New York University, the spring semester began with a poetry reading. Students and faculty gathered in the atrium of Bobst Library. At that time, about 26,000 Palestinians had already been killed in Israel’s horrific war on Gaza; the reading was a collective act of bearing witness.

The last poem read aloud was titled “If I Must Die.” It was written, hauntingly, by a Palestinian poet and academic named Refaat Alareer who was killed weeks earlier by an Israeli airstrike. The poem ends: “If I must die, let it bring hope — let it be a tale.”

Soon after those lines were recited, the university administration shut the reading down . Afterward, we learned that students and faculty members were called into disciplinary meetings for participating in this apparently “disruptive” act; written warnings were issued.

We have both taught at N.Y.U. for over a decade and believe we are in a moment of unparalleled repression. Over the past six months, since the start of Israel’s war on Gaza, we have seen the university administration fail to adequately protect dissent on campus, actively squelching it instead. We believe what we are witnessing in response to student, staff and faculty opposition to the war violates the very foundations of academic freedom.

While N.Y.U. says that it remains committed to free expression on campus and that its rules about and approach to protest activity haven’t changed, students and faculty members in solidarity with the Palestinian people have found the campus environment alarmingly constrained.

About a week after Hamas’s attacks in October, the Grand Staircase in the Kimmel student center, a storied site of student protests , closed indefinitely; it has yet to reopen fully. A graduate student employee was reprimanded for putting up fliers in support of Palestinians on the student’s office door and ultimately took them down; that person is not the only N.Y.U. student to face some form of disciplinary consequence for pro-Palestinian speech or action. A resolution calling for the university to reaffirm protection of pro-Palestinian speech and civic activity on campus, passed by the elected Student Government Assembly in December, has apparently been stuck in a procedural black hole since.

The New York Police Department has become a pervasive presence on campus, with over 6,000 hours of officer presence added after the war broke out. Hundreds of faculty members have signed onto an open letter condemning the university’s “culture of fear about campus speech and activism.”

Such draconian interventions are direct threats to academic freedom.

At universities across the country, any criticism of Israel’s policies, expressions of solidarity with Palestinians, organized calls for a cease-fire or even pedagogy on the recent history of the land have all emerged as perilous speech. In a letter to university presidents in November, the A.C.L.U. expressed concern about “impermissible chilling of free speech and association on campus” in relation to pro-Palestinian student groups and views; since then, the atmosphere at colleges has become downright McCarthyite .

The donors, trustees, administrators and third parties who oppose pro-Palestinian speech seem to equate any criticism of the State of Israel — an occupying power under international law and one accused of committing war crimes — with antisemitism. To them, the norms of free speech are inherently problematic, and a broad definition of antisemitism is a tool for censorship . Outside funding has poured into horrifying doxxing and harassment campaigns. Pro-Israel surveillance groups like Canary Mission and CAMERA relentlessly target individuals and groups deemed antisemitic or critical of Israel. Ominous threats follow faculty and students for just expressing their opinions or living out their values.

To be clear, we abhor all expressions of antisemitism and wholeheartedly reject any role for antisemitism on our campuses. Equally, we believe that conflating criticism of Israel or Zionism with antisemitism is dangerous. Equating the criticism of any nation with inherent racism endangers basic democratic freedoms on and off campus. As the A.C.L.U. wrote in its November statement, a university “cannot fulfill its mission as a forum for vigorous debate” if it polices the views of faculty members and students, however much any of us may disagree with them or find them offensive.

In a wave of crackdowns on pro-Palestinian speech nationwide, students have had scholarships revoked, job offers pulled and student groups suspended. At Columbia, protesters have reported being sprayed by what they said was skunk, a chemical weapon used by the Israeli military; at Northwestern, two Black students faced criminal charges , later dropped, for publishing a pro-Palestinian newspaper parody; at Cornell, students were arrested during a peaceful protest . In a shocking episode of violence last fall, three Palestinian students , two of them wearing kaffiyehs, were shot while walking near the University of Vermont.

Many more cases of student repression on campuses are unfolding.

Academic freedom, as defined by the American Association of University Professors in the mid-20th century , provides protection for the pursuit of knowledge by faculty members, whose job is to educate, learn and research both inside and outside the academy. Not only does this resonate with the Constitution’s free speech protections ; international human rights law also affirms the centrality of academic freedom to the right to education and the institutional autonomy of educational institutions.

Across the United States, attacks on free speech are on the rise . In recent years, right-wing groups opposed to the teaching of critical race theory have tried to undermine these principles through measures including restrictions on the discussion of history and structural racism in curriculums, heightened scrutiny of lectures and courses that are seen to promote dissent and disciplinary procedures against academics who work on these topics.

What people may not realize is that speech critical of Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies has long been censored, posing persistent challenges to those of us who uphold academic freedom. Well before Oct. 7, speech and action at N.Y.U. in support of Palestinians faced intense and undue scrutiny.

Our students are heeding Refaat Alareer’s call to bear witness. They are speaking out — writing statements, organizing protests and responding to a plausible threat of genocide with idealism and conviction. As faculty members, we believe that college should be a time when students are encouraged to ask big questions about justice and the future of humanity and to pursue answers however disquieting to the powerful.

Universities must be places where students have access to specialized knowledge that shapes contemporary debates, where faculty members are encouraged to be public intellectuals, even when, or perhaps especially when, they are expressing dissenting opinions speaking truth to power. Classrooms must allow for contextual learning, where rapidly mutating current events are put into a longer historical timeline.

This is a high-stakes moment. A century ago, attacks on open discussion of European antisemitism, the criminalization of dissent and the denial of Jewish histories of oppression and dispossession helped create the conditions for the Holocaust. One crucial “never again” lesson from that period is that the thought police can be dangerous. They can render vulnerable communities targets of oppression. They can convince the world that some lives are not as valuable as others, justifying mass slaughter.

It is no wonder that students across the country are protesting an unpopular and brutal war that, besides Israel, only the United States is capable of stopping. It is extraordinary that the very institutions that ought to safeguard their exercise of free speech are instead escalating surveillance and policing, working on ever more restrictive student conduct rules and essentially risking the death of academic freedom.

From the Vietnam War to apartheid South Africa, universities have been important places for open discussion and disagreement about government policies, the historical record, structural racism and settler colonialism. They have also long served as sites of protest. If the university cannot serve as an arena for such freedoms, the possibilities of democratic life inside and outside the university gates are not only impoverished but under threat of extinction.

Paula Chakravartty is a professor of media, communication and culture at New York University, where Vasuki Nesiah is a professor of practice in human rights and international law. Both are members of the executive committee of the N.Y.U. chapter of the American Association of University Professors and members of N.Y.U.’s Faculty for Justice in Palestine.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

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Watch CBS News

Judge rejects effort to dismiss Trump Georgia case on First Amendment grounds

By Melissa Quinn , Jared Eggleston

Updated on: April 4, 2024 / 4:29 PM EDT / CBS News

A Georgia judge on Thursday denied an effort by former President Donald Trump and 14 others to dismiss the 2020 election-related case in Fulton County, ruling that the First Amendment does not protect the defendants from prosecution.

In a 14-page order, Judge Scott McAfee rejected the argument put forth by the defendants that the charges violate the First Amendment's protections of political speech and the right to petition Congress.

"[F]ree speech — including political speech — is not without restriction," McAfee wrote. "These excluded categories include speech integral to criminal conduct, fraud, or speech presenting an imminent threat that the Government can prevent."

Trump and 18 other co-defendants were indicted last year on state charges by a grand jury in Fulton County, the culmination of an investigation by District Attorney Fani Willis and her office. Prosecutors alleged the defendants worked to overturn the election results in Georgia after Trump lost the state in 2020. Trump and most of the other defendants have pleaded not guilty and denied wrongdoing, while several others have taken plea deals.

The former president faces 10 felony charges. McAfee dismissed three against him in an earlier decision.

Former President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event in Green Bay, Wisconsin, on Tuesday, April 2, 2024.

Defense attorneys challenged the state laws underpinning the charges, saying the alleged violations were protected political speech. McAfee ruled that the First Amendment's protections do not apply, since the speech in question is "alleged to have been made in furtherance of criminal activity."

"Even core political speech addressing matters of public concern is not impenetrable from prosecution if allegedly used to further criminal activity," the judge wrote.

Steve Sadow, an attorney for Trump, said the defendants "respectfully disagree with Judge McAfee's order and will continue to evaluate their options regarding the First Amendment challenges." Sadow noted that McAfee left the door open for the defendants to raise the First Amendment issue further down the line. 

In his order, McAfee said only a jury can resolve whether Trump and his allies' speech or conduct "was carried out with criminal intent," as prosecutors have claimed.

Still, he added that "accepting the allegations as true for the purposes of this pretrial challenge, as the court must, the speech alleged in this indictment is integral to criminal conduct and categorically excluded from First Amendment protections."

McAfee said defense attorneys have not presented "any authority that the speech and conduct alleged" is constitutionally protected political speech.

The sprawling racketeering case brought by Willis and her office has picked back up after an effort spearheaded by one of Trump's co-defendants to disqualify the district attorney from the prosecution derailed it for several weeks.

Michael Roman, a longtime GOP operative, accused Willis of engaging in an improper romantic relationship with one of her deputies, Nathan Wade, and alleged she financially benefited from it. Trump and seven others joined Roman's bid to remove Willis and the district attorney's office from the case, but McAfee ultimately declined to do so .

The judge instead said Willis could remain on the case so long as Wade resigned, which he did on the heels of McAfee's decision.

Willis and Wade acknowledged they were romantically involved, but said their relationship began after Wade was hired in November 2021 to work on the case involving Trump. They both forcefully denied wrongdoing , but the allegations cast a shadow over the prosecution.

The former president and the seven co-defendants asked the Georgia Court of Appeals last week to review McAfee's decision not to disqualify Willis and her office. The court has 45 days to decide whether to hear the appeal.

The Georgia case is one of four criminal prosecutions brought against the former president. A trial in Manhattan, where Trump faces 34 felony counts for falsifying business records, is set to begin this month .

His conduct surrounding the 2020 election also led to federal charges in Washington, D.C., brought by special counsel Jack Smith. The fourth prosecution, also brought by Smith in federal court in South Florida, stems from Trump's alleged mishandling of sensitive government documents after he left the White House in January 2021.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to all charges and has claimed that the prosecutions are politically motivated. 

Melissa Quinn is a politics reporter for CBSNews.com. She has written for outlets including the Washington Examiner, Daily Signal and Alexandria Times. Melissa covers U.S. politics, with a focus on the Supreme Court and federal courts.

More from CBS News

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Elon Musk picks his speech battle

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Happy Wednesday! Hope your eyes are recovering . Send news tips to: [email protected] .

Though Elon Musk often insists his goal with X is to promote free speech, his actions have rarely been those of the “ free-speech absolutist ” he once claimed to be. Yes, he has rolled back the social platform’s policies on hate speech, cut back on content moderation and reinstated banned extremists under the free-speech banner. But he has also made up rules to ban accounts he doesn’t like, suspended journalists and sued nonprofit advocacy groups in what one judge ruled was a bid to silence critics . 

In the United States, the First Amendment and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act give X a free hand to moderate or tolerate speech as it sees fit. And while many on the left have decried Musk’s policies, they’ve been widely cheered on the right. But it’s worth remembering that most X users are not American. And other countries have their own speech laws, some of them much more restrictive. 

Since acquiring Twitter, which once prided itself on protecting dissidents abroad, Musk has proved unusually compliant when it comes to government censorship and surveillance requests.

In April 2022, Musk tweeted what seemed to be his clearest definition yet of what “free speech” means to him in the context of social media, saying it’s simply “that which matches the law.” 

By “free speech”, I simply mean that which matches the law. I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law. If people want less free speech, they will ask government to pass laws to that effect. Therefore, going beyond the law is contrary to the will of the people. — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 26, 2022

While Musk hasn’t always held true to that principle domestically, he has generally adhered to it overseas. In India, for example, X agreed to block links to a BBC documentary that cast a critical lens on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi , and it has since capitulated to systematic censorship there. In Turkey, the company restricted tweets at the behest of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the eve of a critical election. Musk defended both decisions on the grounds that X had no choice but to comply .

In fact, as of a year ago, Rest of World reported that the company had not refused a single censorship request since Musk took over.

In recent days, however, he has dug in for a high-stakes battle in Brazil that shows he is willing to take a stand against foreign governments — if the speech of right-wing activists is at stake.

The standoff is over orders from Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes to block a number of accounts for “spreading anti-democratic ideas that undermine the Brazilian democratic state.” As my colleagues Niha Masih and María Luisa Paúl reported, those include far-right figures allied with former president Jair Bolsonaro , whose supporters stormed Brazilian government buildings on Jan. 8, 2023, following Bolsonaro’s electoral defeat. 

On Saturday, Musk posted on X that the platform was defying those orders and “lifting all restrictions” on the accounts in question. “This judge has applied massive fines, threatened to arrest our employees and cut off access to X in Brazil,” Musk wrote, referring to Moraes. “As a result, we will probably lose all revenue in Brazil and have to shut down our office there. But principles matter more than profit.”

As foreign markets go, Brazil is no small potatoes. It is one of X’s largest markets outside the United States, and it plays a similar role there, with politicians and activists using it as a megaphone and water cooler to debate public issues. So Musk really is risking X’s business. But where did those principles come from all of a sudden?

Musk’s showdown with Brazil’s Moraes comes after a “Twitter Files” installment that detailed how Moraes and other Brazilian officials pressured social media companies to remove content. 

As I wrote when Musk’s handpicked journalists began publishing the Twitter Files in late 2022, they have helped Musk justify his takeover of Twitter by casting him as a crusader exposing the “censorship” of the company’s previous leadership. Focusing almost exclusively on content moderation against conservatives, they have also helped endear him to Republicans, providing them fodder with which to sue the Biden administration and pressure disinformation researchers.

For Musk and his backers on the right, Brazil presents a parallel scenario in which a liberal government is trying to hold its populist-right predecessor to account for attempting to subvert a democratic election. 

Still, Musk’s own credo would seem to imply that he should be complying with Brazil’s laws.

In Musk’s 2022 defining of free speech, he added that “If people want less free speech, they will ask government to pass laws to that effect.” Brazil’s laws do in fact allow for government restrictions on certain kinds of speech . The country became a democracy only in 1985, after decades of authoritarian rule, and its leaders regard that democracy as fragile — especially in the wake of the 2023 insurrection, which was fueled partly via social media . Accordingly, for better or worse, the country is now cracking down on speech it deems a threat to that democracy. 

One can argue those laws go too far or give the government too much power to silence its opposition, said Thiago de Aragão , a senior associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies who advises companies on risks in Latin America. But he said it’s hard to see Musk’s stand as principled, given how he has gone about it.

“It would be more understandable if he had exhausted all legal means and lost,” de Aragão said. “Instead he’s beginning from the end” by publicly defying the orders and even calling Moraes “a dictator” who has Brazil’s president “on a leash.” 

That suggests Musk’s real motive is to provoke a confrontation that serves his own ends, de Aragão said.

“Personally, I believe he actually wants very much for Moraes to ban [X] at least temporarily, because that would crown and legitimate his narrative” that he’s “a champion of free speech.”

Agency scanner

Funding shortfall forces FCC to slash monthly broadband benefits in May (By Tony Romm)

New FCC rule requires internet service providers to display fees (By Eva Dou)

Hill happenings

Children’s online safety legislation gains champions in House (Bloomberg Government)

Inside the industry

Content creators ask Meta to reverse politics limits on Instagram, Threads (By Taylor Lorenz)

Meta’s Nick Clegg plays down AI’s threat to global democracy (The Guardian)

GM’s Cruise robotaxis are back in Phoenix — but people are driving them (TechCrunch)

AI race heats up as OpenAI, Google and Mistral release new models (The Guardian)

AI disinfo detection startup Alethea raises $20 million (Axios)

Competition watch

WordPress owner buys Beeper, app that enabled iMessage on Android (Bloomberg)

YouTube launches new Shopping features (TechCrunch)

YouTube is the most consequential technology in America (By Shira Ovide)

  • Georgetown University Law School holds an event , “Global Perspectives on AI Governance,” today at 3 p.m.
  • Washington Post Live hosts an event, “This is Climate Summit: Tipping Points,” Thursday at 9 a.m, including conversations with John Podesta , Maryland Gov. Wes Moore and environmental entrepreneurs on climate change and the role of technology in combatting it. Register here to watch.
  • The Knight-Georgetown Institute hosts an event , “Burning Questions: Online Deception and Generative AI,” Thursday at 11 a.m.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee holds a hearing , “Where Are We Now: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996,” on Thursday at 1 p.m.

Before you log off

This chart would have been unimaginable just a few years ago pic.twitter.com/hFF5dj5Rmg — Joe Pompliano (@JoePompliano) April 9, 2024

That ’ s all for today — thank you so much for joining us! Make sure to tell others to subscribe to  The Technology 202 here . Get in touch with Cristiano (via email or social media ) and Will (via email or social media ) for tips, feedback or greetings!

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  1. 2019 Free Speech Essay Contest Winners Part 1/2

  2. Questions about free speech on campus? UB explains


  1. 123 Freedom of Speech Topics & Essay Examples

    Develop a well-organized freedom of speech essay outline. Think of the main points you want to discuss and decide how you can present them in the paper. For example, you can include one introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs, and one concluding paragraphs. Define your freedom of speech essay thesis clearly.

  2. Free Speech Essay Contest

    In a persuasive letter or essay, convince your peers that free speech is a better idea than censorship. Your letter or essay must be between 700-900 words. We encourage you to draw from current events, historical examples, our free speech comic , other resources on FIRE's website , and/or your own personal experiences.

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  4. Free Speech

    Freedom of speech is also sometimes understood more broadly as a social value. 2. Limits on Free Speech. Freedom of speech is not an unlimited right. All governments impose some limits on what kinds of speech they will protect. This is because freedom of speech, like all rights, must be balanced against other rights and values.

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    Some people feel that freedom of speech just protects speaking, while others feel that it also covers art, literature, and other forms of expression. Table Of Contents. Freedom of Speech Essay Topic Ideas. Essay Example: Social Distancing Is Important During the Coronavirus Pandemic. Essay Analysis.

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    Discussion and Essay Questions. Back; More ; Available to teachers only as part of the Teaching Free SpeechTeacher Pass Teaching Free Speech Teacher Pass includes:

  7. Freedom of Speech? A Lesson on Understanding the Protections and Limits

    1. According to the essay, why is it important to protect speech, even if that speech is unpopular? 2. According to the essay, what kinds of actions are included in the term "speech" as it is ...

  8. Why Is Freedom of Speech an Important Right? When, if Ever, Can It Be

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  10. FIRE's 2020-2021 Free Speech Essay Contest: More winning essays

    FIRE's High School Outreach team recently published the winners of the 2020-2021 Free Speech Essay Contest — along with the winning submission . This year's prompt asked students to draw on current events, historical examples, personal experiences, or other FIRE resources to pen "a persuasive letter or essay [to] convince your peers ...

  11. Sample First Amendment Essay Questions

    ESSAY PROBLEM 3 (2018) ... DISTURBING THE PEACE VIOLATE THEIR RIGHTS UNDER THE FREE SPEECH CLAUSE. Please confine your answer to these two questions to a single blue book, or a maximum of 10,000 characters if you are using ExamSoft. Essay Problem (Fall, 2016) In the recent election, "fake news" sites might have influenced voters in the ...

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    Freedom of speech—the right to express opinions without government restraint—is a democratic ideal that dates back to ancient Greece. In the United States, the First Amendment guarantees free ...

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  14. Free Speech and Free Press Questions and Answers

    Sam from California. A: These are excellent questions. Your right to protest is part of your right of free speech, protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Everyone has a constitutional right to protest, and a school may not stop a protest simply because they don't like what you want to say.

  15. Why Freedom of Speech is Important: [Essay Example], 702 words

    Introduction. Freedom of speech is a foundational pillar of democratic societies and a fundamental human right. It serves as the bedrock of open and inclusive societies, allowing individuals to express their thoughts, opinions, and ideas freely, without fear of censorship or reprisal. In this essay, we will delve into the multifaceted reasons why freedom of speech is crucial for the protection ...

  16. 130 New Prompts for Argumentative Writing

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  17. Free Speech Essays: Examples, Topics, & Outlines

    Goldstein, R.J. (2000). Flag burning and free speech. University Press of Kansas. Rosen, J. (1990). Was the Flag urning Amendment Unconstitutional. Yale Law…. Works Cited Read More. View our collection of free speech essays. Find inspiration for topics, titles, outlines, & craft impactful free speech papers.

  18. The Ongoing Challenge to Define Free Speech

    Other current issues in our society raise interesting free speech questions as well. It is well-established law that the First Amendment's free speech guarantee only applies to government action. It is the government— whether federal, state, or local—that may not restrict freedom of speech without satisfying a variety of standards and ...

  19. In the Classroom

    FREE SPEECH CENTER. In 1776, our founders risked their lives to publish a Declaration of Independence. Those early Americans sought "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" by creating a nation founded on freedom. This Free Speech Center quiz tests knowledge of the Declaration of Independence.

  20. Speech and Essay Samples • My Speech Class

    Get inspired by our FREE speech and essay examples. Use them to get the creative juices flowing. Don't copy any of these examples! Since these speeches are available for anyone to download, you can never be sure that another student has not used them, and that they will pass plagiarism evaluation tools, such as Turnitin or Plagscan.


    Essay 8 Gradesheet 1. Recognition of First AmendmentIFree Speech protections. Seat Score Please use blue or black pen and write numbers clearly 2. An ordinance may, however, criminalize speech that constitutes "fighting words." 2a. "Fighting words" must incite immediate or imminent breach of peace, unlawful conduct or provoke action or violence. 3.

  22. Government Speech and Government as Speaker

    In this context, the government speech doctrine sometimes overlaps with the public forum doctrine, discussed in Amdt1.7.7.1 The Public Forum, in determining whether the speech is governmental or private. Jump to essay-14 See Pleasant Grove City, 555 U.S. at 470. Jump to essay-15 Id. at 470-73. Jump to essay-16 See Walker, 576 U.S. at 203-04.

  23. Free Speech Is Alive and Well at Vanderbilt University

    Students, including BDS advocates, are free to engage in protests and required to follow the rules and respect civil discourse.

  24. Free Speech Is for Campus Reporters Too

    During the student protest at Kirkland Hall that chancellor Daniel Diermeier discusses in his op-ed "Free Speech Is Alive and Well at Vanderbilt University" (April 3), we—editors of the ...

  25. A True 'Safe Space' and What BDS Really Is

    Vanderbilt, as its chancellor demonstrates ("Free Speech Is Alive and Well and Vanderbilt University" by Daniel Diermeier, op-ed, April 3), is protecting free speech and teaching its students ...

  26. Opinion

    In a letter to university presidents in November, the A.C.L.U. expressed concern about "impermissible chilling of free speech and association on campus" in relation to pro-Palestinian student ...

  27. Judge rejects effort to dismiss Trump Georgia case on First Amendment

    Breaking down Trump's free speech claims in Georgia election case 03:28. A Georgia judge on Thursday denied an effort by former President Donald Trump and 14 others to dismiss the 2020 election ...

  28. Elon Musk picks his speech battle

    In Musk's 2022 defining of free speech, he added that "If people want less free speech, they will ask government to pass laws to that effect." ... "Burning Questions: Online Deception and ...