A liberty tree with effigies.

From Liberty Tree to Taking a Knee: America’s Founding Era Sheds Light on the NFL Controversy

Symbolic speech as a form of protest, like taking a knee at a football game while others stand for the National Anthem, enjoys a long history in America. It’s been a powerful form of political expression going back to the protests in the colonies in the 1760s against British oppression. Various forms of symbolic expression—liberty trees, liberty poles, effigies of hated politicians, even the use of the number 45—brought multitudes into the political sphere and was critical in building opposition to British rule. Much of this symbolic expression was controversial and even offensive but a powerful form of protest then and now.

October 12, 2017 Assembly, Below the Fold, Speech, Symbolic Speech

Taking A Knee: The Protests Spread

It started with Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback who played for the San Francisco 49ers in 2016. To protest what he saw as oppression of people of color, he refused to stand for the National Anthem before his NFL games. His symbolic expression of dissent spread to other players and continued into the 2017 season, exploding into fiery controversy when President Donald Trump urged the NFL and its owners to fire players who refused to honor the National Anthem. The practice of taking a knee even spread to high school football players. Does the First Amendment protect the players when they refuse to stand for the National Anthem? And how does taking a knee fit into America’s history of political protest? We provide historical perspective in From Liberty Tree to Taking a Knee: America’s Founding Era Sheds Light on the NFL Controversy.

October 10, 2017 Speech, Symbolic Speech
Discrimination or Free Speech? What’s At Stake in the Wedding Cake Conflict

Discrimination or Free Speech? What’s At Stake in the Wedding Cake Conflict

Jack C. Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakeland, Colorado, refused to design and create a wedding cake for a celebration of a same-sex marriage. He claims that creation of the cake is artistic expression protected by the First Amendment’s free speech and free exercise of religion clause. But the same-sex couple and Colorado argue that Phillips’ work on the cake is not expressive conduct according to the law and that the state has a significant interest in preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation. What will the Supreme Court say when it hears the case?

October 2, 2017 Artistic Speech, Below the Fold, Speech
J3NE4D Ohio, USA. 19th Apr, 2017. Robert Murray, the 77-year-old founder and CEO of Murray Energy Corporation, talks in his office in St. Clairsville in Ohio, United States, 19 April 2017. The coal industry in the state has set its hopes on president Donald Trump and fracking. Photo: Andreas Hoenig/dpa/Alamy Live News

Defamation Suit By Coal Baron Against John Oliver Gets Green Light to Proceed

Coal magnate Robert Murray has a long history of suing the media – at least nine organizations at last count. His latest targets: HBO’s John Oliver and The New York Times. He claims that both misrepresented safety at his coal mines and attacked him personally. He even asked for an emergency “gag order” against rebroadcast of Oliver’s segment arguing it was hurting[Read More…]

September 22, 2017 Below the Fold, Libel, Privacy, Speech
Supreme Court Affirms Hate Speech Protected

Supreme Court Affirms Hate Speech Protected

June 19, 2017: Supreme Court and the “Freedom to Express ‘the thought that we hate’” First Amendment expert, Eugene Volokh writes that in Matal v. Tam, also known as the “Slants” case, the “justices made clear that speech that some view as racially offensive is protected not just against outright prohibition but also against lesser restrictions.” For example, Justice Samuel Alito[Read More…]

June 21, 2017 Offensive Speech, Speech, Top Stories
Lessons from Berkeley on Campus Free Speech

Lessons from Berkeley on Campus Free Speech

Free-speech watchdog FIRE’s mission is more important than ever on the nation’s college campuses.

May 15, 2017 Below the Fold, Campus Speech, Speech