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  • October 06, 2007
    By Wendy Kaminer
    By Wendy Kaminer

    Thanks to Burton Hanson for alerting us to a ruling by the Supreme Court of Washington State striking down a law that barred political candidates from knowingly or recklessly making false statements about their opponents. This was an easy case: if the First Amendment means anything at all, it means that government officials may not restrict the content of political speech, as the majority recognized: “The notion that government, rather than the people, may be the final arbiter of truth in political debate is fundamentally at odds with the First Amendment,” Justice James Johnson wrote, in Rickert v Public Disclosure Commission

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  • October 04, 2007
    By Harvey Silverglate
    Sometimes it seems as if Massport is lacing the water coolers that Logan Airport security personnel drink from on their breaks. After the imbroglio surrounding M.I.T.-undergraduate-cum-performance-artist Star Simpson, which I blogged about last week, some people appropriately began to question the judgment of airport security in failing to recognize what was obviously not an explosive device.

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  • September 26, 2007
    By Wendy Kaminer
    By Wendy Kaminer

    If the case of the Jena 6 seems, at least at first, like a depressingly simple example of racism in the justice system, (and the culture,) it also raises some complicated questions about free speech. The trouble at Louisiana's Jena High School began when white students hung three nooses from a tree that served as a de facto, whites only meeting spot, after 3 black students dared to sit under it.

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  • August 31, 2007
    By Wendy Kaminer
    Half naked women are common sights in city streets every summer (and all year round in warmer climes.) We argue about whether this skimpy, sexualized public attire represents the rise or fall of feminism, but there’s virtually no dispute about its legality. So when municipalities start criminalizing baggy, underwear exposing jeans, generally associated with young black males, you know legislators are motivated by something other than a concern for decency.

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  • August 23, 2007
    By Harvey Silverglate
    Boston’s small but feisty Armenian lobby scored its biggest “victory” yet earlier this week, when it finally cornered Anti-Defamation League President Abe Foxman into describing the slaughter of Armenians during and after World War One as “tantamount to genocide" (see press release). I put “victory” in quotation marks because, in my view, neither side emerges from this controversy looking like a real winner.

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  • August 21, 2007
    By Harvey Silverglate
    I don't see how the Anti-Defamation League, either the national organization or its New England regional branch, can dig itself out of the Armenian Genocide hole, into which it falls further each day, unless it devises a more principled position on a question that is central to this entire controversy: “Who writes history?”

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  • August 20, 2007
    By Wendy Kaminer
    Maybe I should watch what I say in discussing Kia Vaughn’s defamation lawsuit against Don Imus. Vaughn, a member of the Rutger’s women basketball team, is suing Imus for referring to her team as “nappy headed ho’s.” No reasonable person would have interpreted Imus’s remark as anything but a crude, stupid, or racist joke; and indeed Rutgers basketball coach C.

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  • July 30, 2007
    By Harvey Silverglate
    For critics of higher education, few campus controversies have been as illuminating as the ongoing saga of Professor Ward Churchill. His case has uniquely intertwined all of the higher education issues du jour – Academic freedom, plagiarism, affirmative action, liberal bias, degraded campus culture – into one messy cloud of controversy that just will not go away.

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  • July 29, 2007
    By Wendy Kaminer
    If money isn’t speech, as advocates of campaign finance restrictions wishfully insist, then why does your local NPR station persist in conducting those annoying pledge drives? If money isn’t speech, why does Rupert Murdoch want to own the Wall Street Journal? Why do unprofitable political publications require financial angels to survive? Of course, money is speech, in effect, as Harvey observes below, (and as crtitics of campaign finance restrictions regularly point out; we have been having this argument for years.

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  • July 25, 2007
    By Harvey Silverglate

    There was a show-tune ditty that was popular back when I was a kid, which younger readers might also identify as the theme song to Married With Children. “Love and marriage,” went the lyric, “go together like a horse and carriage. This, I tell you, brother: You can’t have one without the other.” In quite the same way, in the context of electoral politics, you can’t have speech without money.

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  • June 27, 2007
    By Wendy Kaminer
    By Wendy Kaminer

    Civil libertarians have good reason to mourn the Supreme Court’s latest rulings eviscerating student speech rights and empowering the president to divert public funds to sectarian religious groups. In the wake of the Court’s earlier decision this term upholding bans on second trimester abortions, these cases confirm that the Court is now pretty firmly under the control of authoritarian (not libertarian) conservatives.

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  • May 28, 2007
    By Wendy Kaminer
    Even free speech absolutists ought to sympathize with abortion providers and patients who want to prohibit anti-abortion protests in close proximity to clinics -- especially in Massachusetts. In 1994, when John Salvi shot up two local reproductive health care clinics, killing two people and wounding five, he left more than grief and carnage in his wake; he also left behind fear and a sense of vulnerability among people who continue to provide and seek abortions today.

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  • May 18, 2007
    By Wendy Kaminer
    In 2005, when the Bush Administration pressured the Public Broadcasting System into dropping an episode of a children’s show with a sympathetic view of a gay family, liberals rightly yelled censorship, decrying the Administration’s bullying and PBS’s failure to resist it. This month, when the Congressional Hispanic Caucus pressured Ken Burns into “amending” his upcoming PBS documentary on World War 11 to include interviews with Latino veterans, many liberals barely seemed to notice.

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  • May 15, 2007
    By Harvey Silverglate

    The mourning period that followed Ronald Reagan’s death three years ago, in which even his fiercest critics agreed to temporarily bite their tongues, clearly won’t apply to the recently deceased Rev. Jerry Falwell. His corpse had barely turned cold before the media erupted into a debate over the demagogue’s true legacy.

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  • May 07, 2007
    By Wendy Kaminer
    “When does free speech become hate speech?,” a Fox News correspondent asked recently in a reviewing yet another free speech controversy at Tufts University. The question itself reflected the common misconception that speech rights do not or should not include the right to engage in whatever is popularly considered hate speech.

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