FIGURES OF SPEECH: FIRST AMENDMENT HEROES AND VILLAINS
William Bennett Turner
In this course we will study the colorful characters who were involved in famous First Amendment controversies. Some of them may be considered heroes, and some villains. They all have interesting stories, but their stories have a larger point informing the 21st Century understanding of First Amendment freedoms of speech and press. The classes:
Sept. 26: WikiLeaks, Julian Assange and Bradley Manning. How WikiLeaks owes its existence to two weaknesses in First Amendment protections, and whether the First Amendment protects WikiLeaks against prosecution under the Espionage Act. Earl Caldwell, the New York Times reporter who covered the Black Panthers and was subpoenaed by a grand jury to disclose his confidential sources and all his notes.
Oct. 3: Yetta Stromberg. Subversive speech, the Sedition Act, and symbolic speech from flying Communist flags to burning American flags and Korans. Jehovah’s Witnesses. How and why a religious group came to account for 72 decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, many enhancing freedoms of speech and press, and what the key decisions mean for all of us. Clarence Brandenburg, the Ku Klux Klan leader and what the precedent in his case means for regulating terrorist speech.
Oct. 10: Rev. Fred Phelps, Robert Stevens, the Violent Video Game Industry. The funeral protesters from Westboro Baptist Church and why their picketing is free speech. Whether the First Amendment protects depictions of animal cruelty as in Stevens’s videos. And how hard First Amendment cases, like the video games decision, scramble the Supreme Court’s usual conservative-liberal lineup.
Oct. 17: Dannie Martin. The convict author’s battle with the federal prison system, and the extent to which our most despised minority – prisoners – have First Amendment rights. Raymond Procunier and Robert H. Schnacke. How the former director of the California prison system went from First Amendment villain to hero. The federal judge who presided over the televising executions case, heard Procunier’s testimony, and abdicated the proper judicial role.
Oct. 24: Richard Hongisto. How the former San Francisco Sheriff and Police Chief went from First Amendment hero -- in a case involving whether anyone has a First Amendment right to enter government facilities or obtain government information -- to villain when he directed police officers to confiscate newspapers critical of him. Larry Flynt. The world’s leading pornographer is also a provocateur whose publications and antics skate close to the edge of First Amendment protection. His encounter with Rev. Jerry Falwell in the Supreme Court led to enhanced protection for political cartoonists and for all of us.
Oct. 31: Clinton Fein. Local computer whiz, creator of annoy.com, and First Amendment activist has been at the center of challenges to Congressional attempts to regulate content on the Internet. Does the Internet medium require different First Amendment rules?
Recommended reading: Turner, Figures of Speech: First Amendment Heroes and Villains (2011). Anthony Lewis, Freedom for the Thought that We Hate (2008), is an excellent essay on First Amendment history and current issues. Lewis’s previous book, Make No Law (1991), is a more complete history, and a great story about New York Times v. Sullivan. Geoffrey Stone, Perilous Times (2004), considers, historically, the main threats to free speech in wartime.
I will from time to time post edited decisions, articles and other materials on the OLLI course web site.