Democracy and Free Speech

Fall 2018
Class Size: 25
Credits per quarter

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May protesters burn flags to express their opposition to government policy? May racists burn crosses, or march the streets with swastikas, to express their supremacist views? May the government ban what it deems obscene art, and who decides where the line is drawn? The First Amendment of the United States Constitution, viewed by many to be the heart of American democracy, remains most vulnerable to erosion when we fail to protect expression that some or even most Americans find unpopular, offensive, repugnant, indecent, subversive, unpatriotic, heretical, or blasphemous.

In light of this ongoing tension, this program will examine the history, the present, and the possible futures of the right to free expression in the U.S. We will ground our program in the study of the major U.S. Supreme Court free speech cases of the last 100 years, learning how to critically read and interpret those decisions, and how to do basic legal research to better understand these cases and their implications. From that foundation, we will further examine the social, cultural, political and economic context of the Court’s decisions, through non-fiction books and articles, journalistic pieces, literature, film and video, and in-class speakers. We also plan to spend time in the community to observe and reflect on the manner that free speech plays out on the ground.

While we will consider the full sweep of First Amendment jurisprudence, we will necessarily focus more deeply on particular controversies, including government suppression of radical political ideas, majoritarian attempts to censor what is perceived as obscene, the evolution of “corporate free speech”, and the impact of new technologies such as the Internet. Throughout the program, we will consider the impact of free speech jurisprudence on the broader democratic enterprise in the U.S.

Students will write very frequently, including weekly short essays, legal writing, opinion pieces, creative writing assignments, and a longer in-depth self-directed research paper. Students will be expected to actively participate in class, and will have assignments focused on developing strong oral advocacy and argument skills. Students will be expected to collaborate with each other throughout the program, and also will be responsible for a significant amount of peer review and feedback to others.

Note: this program is offered again in winter quarter. Students who take this program in fall should not take it again in winter.

This offering will prepare you for careers and advanced study in:

social sciences, law, education, journalism, public policy, political theory, American history and political science.

Class Standing: Sophomore–Senior
Class Size: 25

Scheduled for: Day

Located in: Olympia

Spring 2020: Contact faculty or check offering in Canvas for first class meeting date and time.