The First Amendment has been front and center in the press under President Donald Trump’s administration. That’s what makes Steven Spielberg’s new movie so incredibly timely. The director’s latest drama, The Post, chronicles The Washington Post’s 1971 effort to publish the legendary Pentagon Papers.
On January 10th, the New Jersey prisons reversed a ban on Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, after a letter from the New Jersey ACLU challenged the ban. With a little reflection, it isn’t hard to see the bitter irony of banning prisoners from reading a book like The New Jim Crow, a book that argues that mass incarceration targets African-Americans in order to keep them in an inferior position both socially and economically. These men and women are made “socially dead,” to borrow a phrase from famed sociologist Orlando Patterson.
Let me repeat that. Trump attempted to halt the publication of a book about him just because he didn’t like it. That, my friends, is censorship. It is a violation of the First Amendment. And it is unconstitutional.
In 2018 the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to address two questions regarding compelled speech: whether requiring a cakeshop owner to create a cake for a same-sex wedding violates the First Amendment, and whether requiring pregnancy crisis centers to post information on abortions violates the First Amendment. The court’s decisions may have far reaching consequences for compelled speech.
These two cases highlight the importance of having policies and procedures in place, and when the policy is not followed, reaching out to intellectual freedom experts for support.
The events in Charlottesville have heightened public awareness of white supremacist organizations and their music, merchandise and online presence. There has also been a renewed interest in leading technology company platforms and the ways in which they host and profit from the activities of groups that identify with white supremacy.
I recommend the book for anyone interested in the First Amendment and freedom of speech issues. The first half of the book is compelling and timeless while the last half of the book is specific to the current moment and political environment.
What is missing from much of the controversy is the real reason that NFL players are choosing to protest during the national anthem. Just as Rosa Parks’ protests were not about buses, these protests are not about the U.S. flag or the national anthem. They are, instead, about systemic racism, police misconduct, and the need for change in a country where it seems the only people free to exercise their First Amendment rights are white, male, and straight.
Intellectual freedom provides our world with innovation: new technology, cures to diseases, new ways of providing food to starving communities. Intellectual freedom enriches culture. Answering the question, “why is intellectual freedom important” is something I am continuing to explore and think about.
On this day 20 years ago, the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark opinion striking down the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”). This statute constituted the first attempt by Congress to regulate the content of material on the Internet. The CDA made it a crime to place content on the Internet that was ‘indecent’ or ‘patently offensive’ if that content would be accessed by minors under the age of 18.