2015Adams Lecture3

Legendary First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams identified higher education as the next battleground over free speech in his 2015 Adams Lecture remarks, citing several instances in which speaking invitations to controversial figures were withdrawn after disapproving student groups threatened disruptive action if the events proceeded as planned. He was quick to clarify that he knew of no such activities at Temple.

“Of all places, campuses should be the most protective of freedom of speech,” Abrams remarked. “On a campus that is free and open, no idea can be banned or forbidden.”

Abrams also noted that in addition to the silencing caused by withdrawn invitations, campus speech had become more subject to stifling and censorship, usually in the name of protecting listeners from “offensive” speech. He observed that some campus activists were “no longer content with seeking to persuade people of their views but instead want to ban speech.”

Reflecting on “what the First Amendment is really about,” Abrams noted that, “the premier purpose for the First Amendment was to protect speech from government intrusion.” He drew sharp contrasts between his position and, for example, that of Justice Breyers, for whom he says the primary purpose of free speech has become “the protection of the democratic order.” Speaking on the issue of corporate speech, Abrams also noted that “we need a neutral First Amendment that does not concern itself with the haves and the have-nots.  People are conflating what the First Amendment protects with how to achieve a more just society… there are other paths available for that. The First Amendment is about liberty. That’s all.” He concluded by insisting that, “more speech, not less, is better: It’s not who benefits by reading the First Amendment broadly that matters. It’s that we all lose by reading it narrowly.”