The Four Freedoms of the First Amendment

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The Four Freedoms of the First Amendment. Craig R. Smith and David M. Hunsaker. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc., 2004. 306 pp. $24.95 pbk.

The Bill of Rights in general, and the First Amendment in particular, could not be more sorely tested than now. Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, a raging debate over how to balance national security with freedom of expression has taken on a heightened sense of urgency. In this light, The Four Freedoms of The First Amendment by Professor Craig R. Smith of California State University-Long Beach and the late David M. Hunsaker could have been a more timely effort to reexamine what the First Amendment means. Although it takes note of the USA Patriot Act and the Bush administration's policies on the "war on terrorism," the book lacks nuanced insights about post-9/11 issues in First Amendment jurisprudence.

The book allows students to realize that the "four core freedoms" of the First Amendment-religion, speech, press, and assembly-have many sub-applications and conflict with competing interests, both societal and individual. In each case, the authors note, "we're granted a freedom to do something and protected by a freedom/rom government intrusion." That is, the book focuses on the First Amendment's "negative" freedoms from the State, not on the positive freedom to demand action by government bodies.

The authors' historical overview of the First Amendment is detailed and contextual. It connects the origin of the four freedoms with their European heritage and traces the First Amendment's ratification. The freedom of religion chapter discusses important court cases on the establishment and exercise of religion as a right, including a section on Native Americans' right to the free exercise of religion.

The authors try distinguishing freedom of speech from freedom of the press: Freedom of speech is "a citizen's right to speak out freely," and press freedom is "the freedom of publication, particularly newspapers." When it comes to the book's discussion of freedom of expression cases, however, the authors' distinction between free speech and free press is not sufficiently clear-cut.

The freedom of speech chapters cover political speech, hate speech, and defamation. Falling within freedom of the press are the broadcast and electronic media chapters. It's unclear, however, whether obscenity and commercial speech should be a matter of speech freedom or of press freedom if the authors' seemingly categorical approach is followed.

Freedom of assembly is examined in relation to the application of the First Amendment to groups. Rather than being considered discretely from other rights, it is mostly discussed in the "Regulation of Political Speech" chapter, which includes a succinct comment on the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.

As its title indicates, the book has as its primary emphasis different freedoms under the First Amendment. Thus, media law, which usually revolves around legal problems in the American press, is not treated as extensively and in depth as some journalism and mass communication scholars might wish. …