A Course on Free Speech

I'm in the midst of a course on free speech under the First Amendment.

Much like my course on the First Amendment in undergraduate, I find it to be radically more engaging and thought-provoking than many of my other courses.

As a body of law that really did not emerge with much vigor from its largely dormant source until just under a century ago, I always find myself questioning judicial pronouncements on the meaning of the First Amendment a great deal.  Even the ones I agree with.  Both in undergraduate and graduate school, I can't help but engage with the material.

For me, so much is going on in any interaction with a free speech opinion or issue.  Should I consider it from today's perspective or should I contextualize it within its own time and circumstances?  What did the Framers envision when the Amendment was enacted versus what our conception of the Amendment has come to be?  Is free speech weakened in a sense even as its protection is extended to additional new categories like obscenity or expression (does it get "thin" when it's stretched too much)?  Should some of the things protected by the First Amendment be protected under other provisions of the Constitution instead?  How do I actually believe different categories of speech, such as subversive advocacy, should be distinguished and treated as opposed to how the courts have found they should be delineated from other categories?  What is "harm" in this setting?  How do we balance - or should we balance?  What about censorship?  What about local control?  Who decides what is a closed question?  Can anything be argued as ostensibly having some value as speech?  How are individuals and law enforcement officers supposed to tailor their conduct to meet the demands of the law?  Should we allow speech into the marketplace that advocates a violent end to the marketplace?  How did we get here via stare decisis?

This is just a tiny sampling of the myriad considerations that swarm like a droplet of pondwater under a microscope every time I read the textbook or step into the classroom.

My skepticism, I've found, leads me to participate often in class.  I probably come off as bit of a contrarian, but I genuinely want to do a number of things - test my own understandings of the law, challenge others' understandings, question the underpinnings of various lines of jurisprudence, express how I actually think about a given point, etc.  It's a free speech course, after all. 

It's rewarding.  Even when I may leave a class with a few classmates - or even the professor - thinking me a fool, I do feel as though I've done my best to plumb my own concerns, to test out my own "grand unified theory of free speech"...and ultimately strengthen my general preference for greater protection of speech overall.