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Freedom of Speech Week Panel Considers Extreme Speech

October 15, 2009

The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University is hosting a discussion on “Extreme Speech and Democracy” during National Freedom of Speech Week.

Hosted by Cronkite School Associate Professor Joseph Russomanno, the discussion will examine what extreme speech is and whether it contributes to dialogue that is necessary in a democracy. The event will begin at 7 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 22, in The First Amendment Forum at the Cronkite School, 555 N. Central Ave. It is free and open to the public.

Participants are ASU Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law Professor James Weinstein, who is co-editor of a new book, “Extreme Speech and Democracy,” and Phoenix attorney David Bodney, who specializes in First Amendment and media law issues. Bodney also wrote a chapter for “Extreme Speech and Democracy.”

Participants will examine recent examples of extreme speech, such as speech that glorifies terrorism, shouting down others at a town hall meeting and the publication of material classified by the government.

“We will look at some recent incidents and examine whether they are extreme speech and whether they should be protected by the First Amendment,” Russomanno said.

“The imperative of holding those in power accountable is best achieved through news media that are free to report and citizens who are free to speak," Russomanno said.
But some question whether extreme speech should be limited by law, he said.

“Extreme Speech and Democracy,” the book that Weinstein co-edited with British barrister Ivan Hare, was recently praised in the Entertainment Law Review as “thoughtful (and) learned” by Conor Gearty, a professor of human rights at the London School of Economics.

“The topic is both provocative and important, being no less than the future of our liberal culture and the task it faces in accommodating itself to the challenge of extremism without destroying all that is good about itself in the process,” Gearty wrote.