The First Amendment and You: What Everyone Should Know

Course No. 9352
Professor John E. Finn, Ph.D.
Wesleyan University
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Course No. 9352
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Course Overview

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
 |  Average 44 minutes each
  • 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

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  • 112-page printed course guidebook
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  • Suggested readings
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Your professor

John E. Finn

About Your Professor

John E. Finn, Ph.D.
Wesleyan University
John E. Finn is Professor of Government Emeritus at Wesleyan University, where he taught for thirty years. Finn received a Ph.D. in political science from Princeton University, a J.D. from Georgetown University, a B.A. in political science from Nasson College, and a degree in culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute. His scholarly research and teaching focuses on constitutional theory, comparative constitutional...
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Reviews

The First Amendment and You: What Everyone Should Know is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 24.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Correct title The title of the course: “The First Amendment and You: What Everyone Should Know” is correct. EVERYONE should listen to this course. It is very. Important to know the facts, especially in this day and age.
Date published: 2019-06-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Clear information with excellent clarification This was a wonderful course which was extremely well taught.
Date published: 2019-05-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from All about the 1st Amendment This course has a strong content with various 1st Amendment issues. I would recommend this course if your interest is a progressive template to 1st Amendment jargon. Professor Finn's expertise is the liberal view point is astounding. I would prefer a balanced and more well rounded discussion of the 1st Amendment.
Date published: 2019-05-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well Presented The lectures were well thought out. Each focused on a specific aspect of the 1st Amendment and then clearly explained the current situation, based on the history of the court cases. Since much is still in flux, related to the issue of religion, it was a good insight into how other aspects have been treated in court and the current stance of the court on hearing cases.
Date published: 2019-04-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Continuing my senior citizen education. LOL With the election week now past I am looking forward to completing another great course. I enjoy these courses very much.
Date published: 2018-11-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Good Course As with every course that the Great Courses puts out, this is a quality production with an excellent instructor presenting. Anyone, regardless of their profession would benefit from this course. Being an US History teacher at the high school level, I find that it adds to my understanding and gives me more knowledge to bring into my class.
Date published: 2018-08-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great course This course is a plus such and important document should be known by all citizens . know your rights and embrace your liberty's don't leave this to others . this course can help with your understanding of the first amendment .
Date published: 2018-04-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Limits on Free Speach has always existed Bought this for an older friend who has some grasp on free speech but not the stari decisis behind it. Great for all ages, the dialectic of the legal system is difficult but absolutely a must for anyone who is a citizen.
Date published: 2017-09-30
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