Free Speech Modules
These modules are designed for use in college or university or advanced high school classes in any discipline in the social sciences or the humanities.
- Charlottesville and Beyond
The dramatic and tragic events of August 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, made clear the strength of the white nationalist and white supremacist movement in the United States today. In the midst of an alt-right rally near the University of Virginia, a counterprotester was killed and many others injured. The conflict shocked the nation and sparked a debate over whether and how to protect hate speech. Charlottesville, after experiencing the toxic mix of First and Second Amendment rights, strives to rebuild an inclusive community. Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union has been left to ponder its strategies to preserve Free Speech, and the media are considering whether their coverage of such events amplifies the impact of white nationalism.
- Mayhem at Middlebury College
Charles Murray was shouted down by student protesters during his appearance at Middlebury College on March 2, 2017. In the ensuing chaos, Murray was forced to deliver his remarks by livestream only, protesters with no connection to Middlebury provoked violence, and a Middlebury faculty member was injured and hospitalized. The incident led to ongoing conflict between students and administrators. The college punished students for their allegedly disruptive behavior, and the community engaged in months of soul-searching as to how to rebuild communication and trust. Two years later, two additional incidents reopened wounds that had barely begun to heal.
- Press Freedom, Murder, and American Foreign Policy
When Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi columnist working for The Washington Post, went to his country’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on Oct. 2, 2018, to obtain documents related to his upcoming marriage, he was immediately set upon by a Saudi assassination team, which brutally murdered and dismembered him. Many governments around the world condemned Saudi leadership for its complicity in the crime — but not the United States. President Donald Trump and many of his supporters, seemingly for pragmatic reasons, declined to accept the conclusion of the Central Intelligence Agency that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia was responsible. The incident raised profound and ongoing questions as to whether the United States has double standards for its allies and adversaries and whether Free Speech has any role to play in U.S. foreign policy.
- Decline of Artistic Freedom in America?
Coast to coast, in public and private institutions, new sensitivities have led to the cancellation of theater productions, art exhibitions, and television shows. U.S. corporations have censored comedy at the demand of repressive foreign governments, while school administrators have confronted students over their choice of music. Even attempts to revive the life story and art of controversial performers have been challenged. Arguments rage over the responsibility of schools and other institutions to uphold Free Speech in the artistic arena.
- Colin Kaepernick’s America
Beginning in 2016, professional football player Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, knelt during the national anthem when it was played before National Football League (NFL) games, as a means of raising awareness of racial and social inequality and protesting police brutality against minorities. After becoming a free agent, Kaepernick experienced difficulty being hired by another NFL team and formally lodged a legal case against the NFL. In 2018, Nike signed Kaepernick as a spokesperson, a decision that sparked ongoing controversy. President Donald Trump publicly condemned Kaepernick, while multiple small religious colleges canceled their contracts with Nike. Other athletes, including Megan Rapinoe, captain of the U.S. women’s national soccer team, which won the World Cup in 2019, have risen to Kaepernick’s defense. The case has sparked national, and even international, debate about the relationship between patriotism and Free Speech.
- ‘Enemy of the People’ or Defenders of Democracy?
In February 2017, President Donald Trump declared on Twitter that The New York Times, NBC News, ABC, CBS, and CNN were “fake news” and the “enemy of the people.” Whether intended as a political tactic or as an angry reaction to unfriendly coverage, Trump’s words have not faded with time, but rather taken hold and fueled serious consequences. A dull roar of opposition to what many perceive as reckless language has done little to diminish threats against reporters and the organizations they work for. As Trump repeats his accusations at frenzied rallies of his faithful, a growing distrust of the mainstream media has taken root in cities across the country, where journalists have been harassed, fired, and even killed. The U.S. press has never been more vulnerable, and the stakes have never been higher for journalists trying to do their job.
- The Free Speech Rights of High School Students
From school newspapers stopped in their tracks to graduation speakers silenced during their commencement addresses — and even restrictions on politically oriented clothing — high school students have increasingly become the target of suppression from administrators. The officials’ motivation? Often not partisan, but rather a desire to avoid controversy of any sort. Many of the students fighting for their right to Free Speech in all its forms are college-bound, and their experiences in high school could prove formative to protests and censorship issues that arise on university campuses across the country.
These versions of Free Speech Modules are designed for use in orientation programs for students new to higher education or for community forums. Each orientation module includes guidelines and background for facilitators, as well as options for customization for particular needs or groups.