The First Amendment: What it Means and Why it Matters

Panel Discussion


“The First Amendment: What it Means and Why it Matters”

1. Tara Smith (University of Texas, Austin, Department of Philosophy)

The First Amendment encompasses activities of different types – most notably, involving speech, religion, and the press. What is the underlying idea that unites these? Why carve out such activities for distinct legal status?

This lecture will examine the basic rationale and meaning of the First Amendment. In doing so, it will also illuminate its value – what we gain, by protecting First Amendment freedoms. Time permitting, we will also untangle a few of the common conceptual confusions that frequently muddle contemporary debates (confusions concerning the meaning of “freedom,” of “censorship,” and the place of legal exemptions).



“The Right to Free Speech and the Value of Speaking Freely”

2. Gregory Salmieri (University of Texas, Austin, Salem Center)

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution commits our government to respecting the right to freedom of speech. But many of today’s controversies about “free speech” aren’t about this right and arguably aren’t about something to which anyone has a right. Instead they are about the range of opinions that people and organizations ought to be willing to tolerate from those with whom they associate. Such controversies concern, for example, university or corporate speech codes, the editorial policies of publications, the content policies of social media companies, and who (if anyone) ought to be “canceled” (i.e. boycotted, black-listed, or ostracized). We might say that these controversies are about the value of people being able to “speak freely,” where what they are free from is social (rather than legal or political) consequences, and where this freedom is seen as one of several competing values, rather than as an inalienable right. Yet there is a general sense that this value is closely connected to the constitutionally protected right to free speech and the value and the right are often conflated in argument.

This talk seeks to shed light on the relation between the right and the value. Issues addressed include: the facts that give rise to the value, the role of the value in grounding the right, the role of the right in determining how the value can be achieved, and some additional considerations that organizations should bear in mind when considering how to achieve the value in contexts where alternative policies are equally compatible with the right.

Tuesday, October 20 at 2:30pm to 5:00pm

Virtual Event
Event Type

Campus & Community, Free Speech Week




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