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The First Amendment and You: What Everyone Should Know

The First Amendment and You: What Everyone Should Know

Professor John E. Finn
Wesleyan University

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The First Amendment and You: What Everyone Should Know

The First Amendment and You: What Everyone Should Know

Course No.  9352
Course No.  9352
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Course Overview

About This Course

12 lectures  |  44 minutes per lecture

A mere 45 words, the First Amendment to the Constitution stands as a pillar of our democracy and has had an incalculable influence on the development of human freedom in the United States and the Western world. By defining the relationship between the people and the state and placing checks on governmental power to silence its populace, its protections have important ramifications for every American. But the First Amendment is not simply a legal construct—it has significant and far-reaching cultural implications as well.

To study the First Amendment is to learn something about the meaning of America and who “We the People” are. So, it behooves citizens to understand what it says and its latest interpretations—particularly in this age of rapidly emerging technology.

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A mere 45 words, the First Amendment to the Constitution stands as a pillar of our democracy and has had an incalculable influence on the development of human freedom in the United States and the Western world. By defining the relationship between the people and the state and placing checks on governmental power to silence its populace, its protections have important ramifications for every American. But the First Amendment is not simply a legal construct—it has significant and far-reaching cultural implications as well.

To study the First Amendment is to learn something about the meaning of America and who “We the People” are. So, it behooves citizens to understand what it says and its latest interpretations—particularly in this age of rapidly emerging technology.

The First Amendment and You: What Everyone Should Know is a practical guide to understanding the protections and limitations implied by this fundamental constitutional provision. Thoughtfully presented by Professor John E. Finn of Wesleyan University—an award-winning teacher and internationally recognized expert on constitutional law and theory—this 12-lecture course will help you fully grasp why we have a First Amendment, what and whom it protects, and why it matters to you personally.

Dive into the Ongoing Debate

Thanks to the profoundly complex and continually evolving web of rules, doctrine, and cases the First Amendment has engendered, any discussion of it is inherently open-ended. Professor Finn is first to admit he doesn’t have all the answers—even Supreme Court justices can’t seem to agree on interpretations from case to case—but he skillfully explains the fundamental principles involved, illuminates the relevant case law, and elucidates the crucial questions and implications in a way everyone can comprehend.

You’ll consider questions of how we define speech, the meaning of “religion,” and when the state can interfere with your rights. The course also sheds light on questions courts and citizens will be grappling with for years to come:

  • How does the First Amendment apply to the Internet?
  • Does the First Amendment apply to video games?
  • Should new communication technologies make courts reconsider well-settled rules?
  • Is social media subject to existing principles, to new ones, or to none at all?

Throughout the lectures, you’ll return to a fundamental theme: What the First Amendment protects is largely a function of why it protects it—the why being America’s commitment to democracy and liberty. In pursuit of these ideals, courts have often placed a higher value on political speech, although no such distinction is made in the Constitution.
As you delve into this “categorical approach” to protected speech, you’ll investigate how it applies to various forms of restricted expression, including hate speech, obscenity, and pornography. And you’ll examine landmark Supreme Court decisions, including

  • Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, which established the doctrine of fighting words;
  • New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, a case best known for establishing the actual malice test in defamation suits; and
  • U.S. v. O’Brien, which demonstrated that the amount of protection your speech warrants may depend on the content and form it takes.

You’ll also look at key 21st-century decisions, such as Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

Learn from the Best

Taught by an accomplished legal scholar, this engrossing course clears up prevalent misconceptions and applies the First Amendment’s guiding principles to America’s ever-changing legal landscape.

Professor Finn believes constitutional literacy is the civic responsibility of every American, and listening to The First Amendment and You puts you well on your way. You’ll gain greater insight on your responsibilities and rights; a better understanding of past, present, and future court decisions; and a deeper appreciation for our nation’s robust defense of freedom of speech.

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12 Lectures
  • 1
    A Citizen’s Guide to the First Amendment
    Why do we have a First Amendment? Whom does the First Amendment protect? As Professor Finn outlines the course, you’ll learn theories on why the First Amendment exists, become familiar with the protections provided, and confront the most common misperceptions Americans have regarding freedom of speech, rights of the press, and more. x
  • 2
    The First Amendment and Political Speech
    On what basis does the court place a higher value on political speech? How do we identify what qualifies as political speech? Investigate the categorical approach to the First Amendment and learn why the state may prohibit speech. Study New York Times Co. v. Sullivan as you contemplate whether speech that defames or includes lies should be protected. x
  • 3
    The First Amendment and Symbolic Speech
    When is conduct considered speech? Should speech protections be extended to conduct at all? Explore the concept of symbolic speech by considering the forms speech can take and examining the classic Supreme Court cases of U.S. v. O’Brien, Spence v. Washington, and Tinker v. Des Moines. x
  • 4
    The First Amendment and Corporate Speech
    Do corporations have speech rights? Are advertisements protected? Look at decisions that have contributed to defining commercial speech and the measure of protection it deserves. Delve into cases like Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which tested the constitutionality of the McCain-Feingold Act, and others concerning restrictions on corporations, unions, and various groups when commenting on public affairs. x
  • 5
    The First Amendment and Obscenity
    Using the categorical approach, the court says some speech falls outside the orbit of the First Amendment and may be censored. How do we define what’s offensive? In this lecture, you’ll see how obscenity and pornography—although plainly speech or expression—are entitled to little or no protection, and probe how the court justifies this exclusion. x
  • 6
    The First Amendment and Hate Speech
    Is there a difference between hateful speech and speech that’s simply offensive? Study Chaplinksy v. New Hampshire, Cohen v. California, Snyder v. Phelps, and other significant cases as you investigate the fighting words doctrine and the history of hate speech laws. x
  • 7
    Does It Matter Where You Speak?
    Explore to what extent citizens can speak freely in various private and public locations. Examine the rationale behind the public forum doctrine and differentiate between rules that govern speech in public forums, limited public forums, and nonpublic forums. x
  • 8
    Freedom of the Press
    Is the press clause of the First Amendment redundant? Discover why the founders made this distinction and the difficulty of defining who and what constitute “the press.” Consider whether journalists have a special privilege to withhold their sources, if courtroom proceedings should be televised, and claims of citizens’ right of access to the media. x
  • 9
    Freedom of Association
    The First Amendment identifies rights to assemble and petition the government, but does not protect association specifically. Examine cases that establish protection for association and highlight the tension between our commitments to associational freedom and equality. Learn when and why the state may limit our freedom to associate. x
  • 10
    The Establishment Clause
    Learn why freedom of religion is so crucial to a constitutional democracy and the issues that have given rise to an incredibly complex—and frequently evolving—series of doctrinal rules and tests, including the important Lemon Test. x
  • 11
    The Free Exercise Clause
    When and why can the state regulate or prohibit the practice of religion? Does religious freedom mean you can opt out of secular laws that burden your faith? Investigate fascinating cases that bear directly on the practical—often controversial— implications of the words “Congress shall make no law … prohibiting the free exercise” of religion. x
  • 12
    The Future of the First Amendment
    Do legal precedents apply to the Internet or are new parameters needed? Consider the debate over net neutrality and explore how existing First Amendment rules apply in the context of new technologies such as social media, Skype, and other online content; video games; and cell-phone cameras. x

Lecture Titles

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John E. Finn
John E. Finn, Ph.D.
Wesleyan University
Dr. John E. Finn is Professor of Government at Wesleyan University, where he has taught for more than 20 years. He earned his B.A. in Political Science from Nasson College, his J.D. from Georgetown University, and his Ph.D. in Political Science from Princeton University. Professor Finn is an internationally recognized expert on constitutional law and political violence. His public lectures include testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, as well as lectures in Bolivia, Canada, Chile, England, France, Italy, and Spain. Professor Finn is the recipient of four distinguished teaching awards at Wesleyan University, as well as an award for distinguished teaching by a graduate student at Princeton University. He is published widely in the fields of constitutional theory and interpretation. He is the author of the highly regarded Constitutions in Crisis: Political Violence and the Rule of Law and coauthor of American Constitutional Law: Essays, Cases, and Comparative Notes, described as ìthe Cadillac of constitutional law casebooks.î
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Reviews

Rated 4.4 out of 5 by 10 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by They Can't Do That, Can They? This course draws a memorable picture of our rights under the first amendment. The bill of rights puts strict limits on the government's ability to limit the actions of the American citizenry. Every day, we hear public speakers claim that someone's actions are unconstitutional. Everyone claims to know their rights under the constitution. Probably very few of us actually understand those rights. Professor Finn's lectures go far to help us understad. Professor Finn's lectures try to draw a coherent picture of the application of the provisions of the first amendment as demonstrated by the decisions of the supreme court, our final arbiter. He has selected his examples with an eye toward making the decisions distinct, and making the distinctions memorable so that when you are done with the course, you can remember and apply the lesson. All speech is not allowed by everybody in all venues and at all times. What you can say, where you can say it, and when they must allow you to speak are all factors with limits. Professor Finn's explanation is golden. Freedom of association, of religion and of the press are discussed at length. The definitions alone are fascinating topics. What is a religion? What comprises the press? What did the founders have in mind for the internet, or what do we think they would have thought? There are side effects to this course. The first is a renewed respect for the law and the lawyers. The second is awe at the trails the supreme court has to blaze and maintain. I don't know whether it was within this course or some other that I heard the statement, “The Supreme Court doesn't get the easy cases.” You cannot complete this course and walk away without understanding that the justices of the supreme court, whatever their political persuasion, have to factor in the interests of the country, the constitution as the source document, and the arguments of some very intelligent litigants in coming to their decisions. I highly recommend this course, whatever your legal and political background. I have no doubt that you will hear conclusions that are old hat, and some that are new to you. You will not agree with the court in all cases, I guarantee. Nor do I, but understanding their reasoning makes it easier for me to swallow the bitter pill and support their conclusions. April 27, 2015
Rated 5 out of 5 by Brilliant and Thought Provoking Professor John Finn has the ability to challenge and engage the listener by asking thought provoking questions that require a full consideration of the issues under consideration. Finn's selection of lecture topics are outstanding as they explore all dimensions of the five freedoms contained in the first amendment (speech, religion, press, assembly and petition.) His case selection is most illustrative not only of the principle under review, but also of the dicey and controversial issues involved in a consideration of the reasonable limits of those freedoms. His comparison of how the principles are applied in other jurisdictions (nations) is also very helpful. Finn also provides an excellent explanation of some of the more controversial cases (such as Citizens United, Roe v. Wade) and subjects (e.g. obscenity, abortion, hate speech) and does so without insinuating any personal judgement or bias. That's not to suggest that he withholds his opinions on the intellectual honesty of the courts' opinions or of their application of legal principles; here his insight is not spared, adding to the course's enjoyment. His even-handed and impartial treatment of these subjects is exceptional. For the student who wants more than just a rote recital of legal principles and is open to being challenged intellectually, I highly recommend this course. I wish that there was a video version of it as well. April 5, 2015
Rated 5 out of 5 by It All Depends.... This is another excellent series of lectures by Prof Finn - more focused than his one on Civil Liberties and the Bill of Rights, which might be a better course to start wth. In twelve 45 minute lectures Finn dissects the way the 1st Amendment has been interpreted for the past 225 years, from just about every angle. The result is a thorough although fairly specialized and dry course, and probably not so good for someone who doesn't have at least a little bit of lawyer in them. I really like Finn's teaching style. He is extremely well informed and makes a point of raising implications and inconsistencies that arise from the various Supreme Court rulings. He makes it clear that the way the Court views the Bill of Rights is always evolving, representing both personal biases of the justices as well as the cultural climate of their day. Finn also is one of those rare speakers who never utters an "um" "ugh" or "ah". I'd love to listen to him teach in more detail on some of the other amendments. This is not the kind of course that will improve one's confidence in our system of Constitutional democracy. Instead it shows the rather tortured way the Supreme Court justifies their biases and political whims in their decisions. It made me frustrated to see the kind of power they have been delegated (often merely by themselves) over time. Especially when they strike down a case saying that it is something the legislature needs to define better and make legal, and then strikes down those subsequent legislative efforts as an attempt to bypass the Court's role in deciding constitutionality.... Catch 22 writ large. But this glimpse of the Court's workings also increased my respect for their sometimes articulate and discerning decisions, and the inherent difficulty of their job. As Prof Finn sums it up, "It all depends" how the Court interprets and applies the Constitution - on the context, the importance they give it, whether it is effecting political discourse (somehow a more valuable type of speech), a special interest or one of questionable social value - and then how this balance of course will all change with the next generation of justices... January 21, 2015
Rated 3 out of 5 by Subject was interesting but presentation was hard to listen to and keep track of various cases. P roof said "and I quote" about two hundred times. Needs to be more human/flash and blood. November 13, 2014
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