Speaking Out...Carefully

A Seminar Addresses the Subtle Cultural Currents That Can Act to Squelch Free Speech

by Jacqueline Frost

To check the pulse of the First Amendment, a Boalt Hall law professor will convene a diverse group of philosophers, lawyers, political scientists and anthropologists later this month at a seminar on censorship.

"We have seen more censorship from both the left and the right," said Robert Post, constitutional law scholar and professor of law.

"This seminar examines everything from Mapplethorpe to hate speech."

Called "Censorship and Silencing: Practices of Cultural Regulation," the seminar Dec. 15 and 16 in Santa Monica is the culmination of a year-long series of conferences.

Sponsored by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, and the UC Humanities Research Institute, the lectures were held at numerous universities throughout California. Post praised the collaboration, calling it a unique joint venture between the organizations.

The project was aimed at re-examining the "history, justification, and practices of traditional state censorship," and exploring the impact of more complex forms of repression known as "silencing."

Silencing occurs when speech is repressed by mechanisms other than the state.

For example, market pressures can determine which movies get made or which books published and thus can "silence" marginal or unpopular perspectives.

Recently claims have been made that hostile environments filled with "hate" speech and pornography can "silence" the voices of women and minorities.

In such circumstances it is argued that some speech must be repressed to liberate other forms of speech. The seminar will analyze how First Amendment rights should be configured in such situations.

Post said that participants, who include Professor Judith Butler from Berkeley's rhetoric department, will represent the spectrum of political beliefs and will cover a range of issues.

Case studies for examination will range from censorship in Elizabethan England and in contemporary Algeria, decisions to fund or not to fund research on possible links between genetics and crime, and legal efforts throughout the world to criminalize denials of the Holocaust.


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