Decline of Artistic Freedom in America?

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”


Please watch this video of comedian Hasan Minhaj as background:

Many of us may find this biting satire from a popular stand-up comedian to be poignant and on point, but the Saudis were neither amused nor touched by it. Indeed, they forced Netflix, a U.S. company, to carry out censorship on their behalf. See this report on the Free Speech Tracker of what happened next:

Not every American producer has yielded to foreign pressure:

Incidents of censorship are actually quite common on U.S. college campuses and
in civil society. See these examples from recent years on the Free Speech Tracker:

The Role of Free Speech


Choose a debate from the options below and use them to articulate both sides of the issue. Do these points of view change yours? Complicate it?

Some Strong Opinions

As the readings below make clear, many see Free Speech as an inalienable right, while others hold it to be more conditional: desirable, so long as the views expressed do not promote hatred or bigotry. To whom do the authors assign the responsibility for Free Speech? What do they say about the social function of artistic expression on campus? Are there utilitarian arguments that can be made for or against artistic censorship?

Discussion Questions

  1. Is this kind of censorship a uniquely American problem? Do you have any thoughts as to why this would be the case?
  2. Consider the censoring of the Minhaj episode in Saudi Arabia again, and read this article about the ethics of American and international business. What is the responsibility of U.S.-based companies to uphold Free Speech/the First Amendment abroad?
  3. What is the public responsibility to separate admirable art from an offensive artist who created it? This clip of Pete Davidson from “Saturday Night Live” makes the point.
  4. Check out this statement from American Theatre: “Schools have the right and responsibility to determine what is appropriate activity and speech under their control, and just because students are exposed to all manner of content in the media and even in their day-to-day lives doesn’t mean that schools can or must permit it, either in classrooms or performance.” Do you agree, and if not, why not? Whose interests should school theater, or for that matter, campus coffee shop playlists, serve?
  5. Will there always be a problem in the United States that we don’t mind censoring certain things done by others but don’t want them to censor what we do? How many people are truly opposed to all forms of censorship?


Click on these themes below: Artistic Expression + Hate Speech

Discuss: What does this confluence of stories with these filters tell us about the threat to artistic freedom and personal expression in the United States?

Tracker Entries