September 28, 2018

Former ACLU president to discuss the need for ‘robust free speech’

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Nadine Strossen, noted author and former president of the American Civil Liberties Union, will discuss the importance of allowing robust free speech rather than censoring even hateful messages next week at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Strossen is one of the nation’s leading experts on constitutional and civil liberties law, and will emphasize that people do not have to choose “between civil rights and civil liberties, or between equality and free speech.” Her lecture and title of her 2018 book, “HATE: Why We Should Resist It With Free Speech, Not Censorship” is Oct. 3 at the SIU School of Law.

Strossen served as the first woman national president of the ACLU for 17 years through 2008.

The law school’s Federalist Society, a registered student organization at the law school, is sponsoring the lecture, which is at 12:15 p.m. in the law school. The event is free and open to the public. Lunch will be provided, and the first 70 guests will receive a free copy of Strossen’s 2018 book.

Media Advisory 

Reporters, photographers and camera crews are welcome to attend the lecture by Nadine Strossen at 12:15 p.m. in the SIU School of Law. Media availability with Strossen may be limited due to time constraints, but law school faculty and students will be available. For more information, contact Michele Mekel, director of external relations, at 618/453-8768.

 The importance of free speech

Strossen is the John Marshall Harlan II Professor of Law at New York Law School. In a note to readers about her book, Strossen said that robust free speech is essential for “promoting equality and countering hatred while censorship undermines these goals.”

The book’s interrelated themes are equally important in the nation’s present political climate:

  • Hate is a problem that undermines the safety, equality, dignity and well-being of too many individuals and groups, and must be resisted vigorously and effectively.
  • While censoring hateful messages might be a common-sense strategy, history shows it is “at best ineffective and at worst counterproductive.”
  • Robust free speech that includes demonstrations, counterprotests, education and advocacy “has a solid track record of advancing the essential causes of equality, diversity, inclusivity and societal harmony.”

Offering a second opinion and commentary

As with all SIU Federalist Society events there will be a second opinion presented.

Steven J. Macias, interim associate dean for academic affairs at the law school, said that in offering a “slightly different” perspective, he hopes the audience comes away with a sense of the tensions inherent with the concept of “free speech.” The view that is popular among attorneys, judges and academics is that “more speech is always the answer to hate speech,” he said.

Macias said he hopes to provide a complementary perspective that a “well-regulated forum better ensures that all voices have an equal opportunity to be heard and that no voice is inadvertently silenced by a doctrinaire protection of hate speech.”

Recent example of censoring bad speech

In an Aug. 8 opinion piece in the New York Daily News, Strossen argues the recent decision by Facebook, Apple, YouTube and later Twitter to ban controversial radio show host Alex Jones from their social media platforms did “what few others could: They’ve turned Jones into a free speech martyr.”

Strossen pointed out decisions involving private companies are not a First Amendment issue because those free-speech protections do not apply to the private sector and “private companies have their own First Amendment rights to decide what they publish.”

The concern, Strossen wrote, is that the same discretionary power used to ban Jones could also be used to ban others’ ideas, since “hate speech is an entirely subjective term with no legal definition.”

Highly regarded author and media commentator

Strossen has presented lectures on more than 500 campuses in the United States and several countries, and has more than 300 published works. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

The New York Times listed Strossen’s 1995 book “Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women’s Rights” as a “Notable Book” of 1995. Her co-authored 1995 book, “Speaking of Race, Speaking of Sex: Hate Speech, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties” earned “outstanding book” recognition by the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights in North America.

Strossen earned her law degree from Harvard Law School.

She is a frequent speaker and media commentator and has appeared on news programs including “60 Minutes,” “CBS Sunday Morning,” “Today,” “Good Morning America;” programs on CNN, C-SPAN, Fox, Al-Jazerra, and also programs in countries including Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. In addition, her opinion editorials have appeared in newspapers including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Washington Times and USA Today.