Professor’s Thoughts

Welcome to the website of Comm 320: Media and the First Amendment and of Comm 327: Culture of the News at Simmons University. Throughout this site, you will find the work of the thoughtful students of Simmons University.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent my own thoughts. If I am successful in my role as an educator, I will have helped my students develop and sharpen their own thinking. I will have accomplished this by introducing them to and asking them to engage with the historical, legal, cultural and ethical challenges inherent in a society that embraces the ideals of free speech and a free press.

That having been said, I approach this topic from a particular perspective. I am an unabashed supporter of the First Amendment. I believe that freedom of speech and freedom of the press are foundational to our country- that one cannot abridge either without also abridging freedom of thought.

My support of free speech necessitates that I respect the free speech rights of those with whom I disagree- including those who say truly hateful and abhorrent things. That is what the First Amendment demands.

There are many people who claim that the first Amendment is complicated, but as a good friend of mine argues, it isn’t. The First Amendment is simple. It’s just hard.

It is also the greatest defense against tyranny. To those who would seek to restrict speech, I offer this reminder: If you condone the censorship of speech, you are granting to government the power to determine which speech is acceptable. What happens when the government decides that your speech is unacceptable?

Whether one seeks to restrict speech in a desire to bolster authority or a desire to protect the vulnerable from hateful speech, the result is the same. Those on the Left and Right who would limit the speech of those with whom they disagree may eventually find themselves subject to other’s censorship- born of the same impulse. It is an impulse to which we must not give in.

Again- the First Amendment is simple. It’s just hard.

I am a graduate of Brandeis University and so I will end with the eloquent words of Justice Louis D. Brandeis in his powerful dissent in Whitney v. California (1927)

Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the State was to make men free to develop their faculties, and that, in its government, the deliberative forces should prevail over the arbitrary. They valued liberty both as an end, and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness, and courage to be the secret of liberty. They believed that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that, without free speech and assembly, discussion would be futile; that, with them, discussion affords ordinarily adequate protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine; that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty, and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government. 

They recognized the risks to which all human institutions are subject. But they knew that order cannot be secured merely through fear of punishment for its infraction; that it is hazardous to discourage thought, hope and imagination; that fear breeds repression; that repression breeds hate; that hate menaces stable government; that the path of safety lies in the opportunity to discuss freely supposed grievances and proposed remedies, and that the fitting remedy for evil counsels is good ones. Believing in the power of reason as applied through public discussion, they eschewed silence coerced by law — the argument of force in its worst form. Recognizing the occasional tyrannies of governing majorities, they amended the Constitution so that free speech and assembly should be guaranteed.

Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.

I look forward to listening and engaging in thoughtful discussions.

-Rachel Gans-Boriskin

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