Topics in Political Science: Freedom of Speech

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Course Length:
15 weeks


  • Using certain constitutional law cases as a starting point, we will examine and discuss competing philosophical grounds for free speech. In the first section of the course, we will look at the original intention of the framers of the First Amendment and early debates about it, and then turn to various "seditious speech" cases (especially those involving speech advocating forcible overthrow of government or lawbreaking). We will then carefully read and discuss John Stuart Mill's On Liberty, especially chapter 2 "Freedom of Thought and Discussion." In the second section of the course, we will review Supreme Court obscenity cases and then study Harry Clor's Obscenity and Public Morality. We will close with some discussion of the broad question of the relationship between truth and freedom (considering it from philosophical and theological perspectives).
  • One cautionary note: unlike my other courses, this course will not be committed in principle to finishing a particular agenda of study, but will rather move at the pace of our own study and discussion. The schedule given below is therefore very tentative and subject to continual revision--we may get through it all, or only a part of it.



1. Regular writing assignments: short (3-5 page) reflection papers (weekly) - (1/2 of the final grade).

2. Regular class presentations on the reading assignments.

3. A final take-home exam - (1/2 of the final grade).



  • selected Supreme Court cases [these are available on the Marqcat website, clicking on E-Resources, then Law, then Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe, then Legal Research, then Get a Case--typing in the name of the parties to the case.]
  • Harry Clor, Obscenity and Public Morality [chapters on library reserve]
  • Harry Clor, Public Morality and Liberal Society [chapters on library reserve]
  • Harry Clor, “How Much Legal Regulation of Obscenity: A Reply to David Lowenthal” [on library reserve]
  • Robert George, Making Men Moral, chapter 7 [excerpt on library reserve]
  • Leonard Levy, excerpt from preface to Emergence of a Free Press (handout)
  • David Lowenthal, Present Dangers, chap. 2 “Interpreting the First Amendment” (pp. 8-28) [on library reserve]
  • David Lowenthal, “Obscenity and the Law” (excerpt reviewing Clor) [on library reserve]
  • John Marshall, excerpt from address responding to the Virginia Resolutions of 1798 [handout]
  • John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, chaps. 1-2 [online at, through the Marqcat menu: On Liberty, #14]
  • Frederick Schauer, Free Speech: A Philosophical Enquiry [excerpts on library reserve]
  • Leo XIII Libertas Praestantissimum [excerpts on library reserve]
  • John Paul II Veritatis Splendor, Fides et Ratio [excerpts on library reserve]
  • two other articles (tba)



  • Jan. 13 Introduction
    • 15 The Framers on Free Speech: Blackstone, Madison, Marshall, Levy, Lowenthal
    • 20 NO CLASS
    • 22 Free Speech cases: Schenck v. U.S., Abrams v.U.S., Gitlow v. N.Y.
    • 27 Free Speech cases: Whitney v. Calif., Masses v. Patten [244 Fed. 535 (1917)]
    • 29 Free speech cases: Dennis v. U.S., Brandenburg v. Ohio
  • Feb. 3 Free speech cases: New York Times v. Sullivan
    • 5 John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, chap. 2
    • 10 Mill, chap. 2
    • 12 Mill, chap. 2
    • 17 Mill, chap. 2
    • 19 Schauer Free Speech
    • 24 Schauer Free Speech
    • 26 Clor, Obscenity and Public Morality, chap. 1
  • Mar. 3 Obscenity cases: Roth v. U.S.-Alberts v. Calif., Memoirs v. Mass
    • 5 Clor, OPM, chap. 2
    • 17 Obscenity cases: Ginzberg v. U.S., Ginsberg v. N.Y., Stanley v. Ga.
    • 19 NO CLASS (there will be a substitute reading or writing assignment)
    • 24 NO CLASS (there will be a substitute reading or writing assignment)
    • 26 Obscenity cases: Miller v. Calif., Paris Adult v. Slaton
    • 31 Amer. Booksellers v. Hudnut, ACLU v. Reno
  • April 2 Clor, OPM, chap. 3
    • 7 Clor, OPM, chap. 3
    • 9 Clor, OPM, chap. 4
    • 14 Clor, OPM, chap. 5
    • 16 Clor, OPM, chap. 6
    • 23 Lowenthal-Clor exchange
    • 28 George, Making Men Moral; Schauer Free Speech
    • 30 Leo XIII Libertas Praestantissimum, John Paul II Veritatis Splendor
  • Note: Clor Obscenity and Public Morality, chapters 4-6 may be replaced or supplemented by chapters (or chapter excerpts) from Public Morality and Liberal Society.