Free Expression in America: A Documentary History

Free Expression in America: A Documentary History

Free Expression in America: A Documentary History

Free Expression in America: A Documentary History

Synopsis

Freedom of speech is a foundational principle of the American Constitutional system. This collection of over 100 primary documents from a variety of sources will help students understand exactly what is meant by "free speech," and how it has evolved since the founding of our country. Court cases, opinion pieces, and many other documents bring to life the tension between America's constitutional commitment to robust and unrestrained discourse and recurring efforts to suppress expression deemed dangerous, degrading or obscene. Explanatory introductions to each document aid users in understanding the various arguments put forth in debates over exactly how to define the Constitution to encourage readers to consider all sides when drawing their own conclusions.

Excerpt

The purpose of this volume is to demonstrate the extraordinary importance of free expression to the American constitutional system and to detail the social and political tensions that have accompanied the decision of the founders of the United States to restrain the government's authority over the communication of ideas. Those who constructed the American system did not work in a vacuum. While the Constitution and especially the Bill of Rights were truly revolutionary as governing instruments, the ideas and ideals that influenced and shaped these documents came out of a rich intellectual tradition. This country's founders built upon the philosophy of the Enlightenment to create a nation where individual rights would enjoy unprecedented protection. Central to their notion of liberty was a belief that the free exchange of ideas is the bedrock upon which all other freedoms depend. They were formed by the Western intellectual tradition, with its emphasis upon science, empiricism, and rationality. It should come as no surprise that a worldview that placed so high a value upon reason would insist upon protecting the intellectual process from state interference. It is truly impossible to understand American constitutional law without first understanding the meaning and importance of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment and the relationship of that clause to the rest of the First Amendment and indeed the rest of the Bill of Rights.

Taken as a whole, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution is nothing less than a celebration of the value of intellectual and moral autonomy. By forbidding government interference with the beliefs of individuals--religious, political, or personal--the First Amendment protects the right of citizens to form opinions freely, to exchange those opinions voluntarily, and to attempt to persuade others of their value.

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