- Isabel Yip and Nicole Chavez, “Illinois outlaws book bans in public libraries,” CNN (June 13)
Illinois became the first state in the nation to prohibit book bans Monday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced, as states across the country continue to challenge and axe literature from public schools and libraries.
Pritzker signed a bill into law on Monday to prohibit libraries from banning books, saying it’s the only one of its kind in the country.
“Book bans are about censorship, marginalizing people, marginalizing ideas and facts. Regimes banned books, not democracies,” Pritzker, a Democrat, said at a bill signing ceremony at a Chicago library. “We refuse to let a vitriolic strain of White nationalism coursing through our country determine whose histories are told, not in Illinois.”
The measure, which takes effect January 1, says public libraries must adopt the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights or their own statement prohibiting book banning to be eligible for state money.
- Orlando Mayorquin, “To Fight Book Bans, Illinois Passes a Ban on Book Bans,” The New York Times (June 13)
Taking a new tack in the ideological battle over what books children should be able to read, Illinois will prohibit book bans in its public schools and libraries, with Gov. J.B. Pritzker calling the bill that he signed on Monday the first of its kind. . . .
The law directs public libraries in the state to adopt or write their own versions of a library bill of rights such as the American Library Association’s, which asserts that “Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”
“Between July and December 2022, instances of individual book bans occurred in 66 school districts in 21 states. PEN America recorded 13 districts in Florida banning books, followed by 12 districts in Missouri, 7 districts in Texas, and 5 districts in both South Carolina and Michigan. Texas districts had the most instances of book bans with 438 bans, followed by 357 bans in Florida, 315 bans in Missouri, and over 100 bans in both Utah and South Carolina.” — PEN America
- Hogan Gore, “Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signs ban on ‘sexually explicit’ books in school libraries into law,” Austin American-Statesman (June 12)
- Jonathan Friedman, “DeSantis is wrong. Book bans in Florida schools and in other states aren’t a ‘hoax.’” USA Today (June 12)
New book on book bans
- Shannon M. Oltmann, ed., “The Fight against Book Bans: Perspectives from the Field” Bloomsbury (June 30)
Book bans and challenges frequently make the news, but when the reporting ends, how do we put them in context? The Fight against Book Bans captures the views of dozens of librarians and library science professors regarding the recent flood of book challenges across the United States, gathered in a comprehensive analysis of their impact and significance. It also serves as a guide to responding to challenges.
Chapter authors provide first-hand accounts of facing book challenges and describe how they have prepared for challenges, overcome opposition to certain books, and shown the value of specific library materials. Library science faculty with a range of specialties provide relevant background information to bolster these on-the-ground views. Together, the chapters both articulate the importance of intellectual freedom and demonstrate how to convey that significance to others in the community with passion and wisdom. This volume provides a timely and thorough overview of the complex issues surrounding the ongoing spate of book challenges faced by public and school libraries.
FIRE on Fire: $200,000 offered to support research on free speech
- Ryne Weiss, “FIRE launches expanded 2023 Free Inquiry Grant program, offering $200,000 to support research on free speech,” FIRE (June 1)
FIRE is proud to announce that we are accepting proposals for the second cycle of our Free Inquiry Grant program, supporting research that advances the understanding of free speech and academic freedom.
We are excited to announce that we have expanded the program to $200,000, with a maximum grant size of $65,000.
Faculty, Ph.D. students, and postdocs at accredited universities, as well as researchers at governmental and independent scholarly institutions like laboratories and think tanks, are eligible to apply. We accept proposals in a wide range of fields of study, including education, history, law, philosophy, political science, psychology, and sociology.
Detailed eligibility information is available on the call for proposals page.
FIRE is conducting this free speech grant program in partnership with its faculty network. Last year, more than 100 members of the FIRE Faculty Network volunteered to review applications for relevance and to ensure grant-receiving projects meet the standards for methodological rigor in the applicant’s field.
“When we announced the Free Inquiry Grant program last year, we were surprised to hear from faculty about the relative lack of funding opportunities for academic research into free speech. We were extremely gratified by the interest in the first year of the program and are so happy to be expanding our support substantially for this critical research,” said FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff.
Applications are now open, and submissions for the 2023 grant program will be accepted until the deadline of Oct. 1, 2023.
Questions that are not answered in the call for proposals can be directed to FIRE Research Manager Ryne Weiss at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“This report details the success of our inaugural year pursuing our expanded mission of defending free speech for all Americans.”
SCOTUS to hear another First Amendment trademark case
- Vidal v. Elster (issue: Whether the refusal to register a trademark under 15 U.S.C. § 1052(c) violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment when the mark contains criticism of a government official or public figure.)
- Susanna Granieri, “Supreme Court Agrees to Hear ‘Trump Too Small’ Trademark Case,” First Amendment Watch (June 6)
SCOTUS denies cert. on NC Confederate flag license plate case
- Jessica Grekso, “Supreme Court won't review N.C. decision to nix license plates with Confederate flag,” Associated Press/The Free Speech Center (June 13)
The Supreme Court said June 12 it wouldn't review North Carolina's decision to stop issuing specialty license plates with the Confederate flag.
As is typical, the Court did not comment in declining to hear the case, which challenged the state's decision. The dispute was one of many the Court said Monday it would not hear. It was similar to a case originating in Texas that the Court heard in 2015, when it ruled the license plates are state property.
The current dispute stems from North Carolina's 2021 decision to stop issuing specialty license plates bearing the insignia of the North Carolina chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The chapter sued, claiming that the state’s decision violated state and federal law. A lower court dismissed the case, and a federal appeals court agreed with that decision.
Libel lawsuit filed in AI ChatGPT case
- Susanna Granieri, “Libel Lawsuit Filed in Georgia Against ChatGPT Parent Company OpenAI,” First Amendment Watch (June 8)
A Georgia talk-show radio host sued OpenAI, the company that owns ChatGPT, for libel June 5 after the artificial intelligence chat bot shared false information about the host to a journalist.
Mark Walters, a radio host at Armed American Radio, filed the lawsuit in the Superior Court of Gwinnett County, Georgia, and claimed ChatGPT published libelous information about him by sharing a “fabricated” complaint to a journalist. Libel is a published false statement that diminishes a person’s reputation.
The journalist, Fred Riehl of Ammoland.com, was reporting on a federal lawsuit filed in Washington, and provided ChatGPT with a link to the complaint and requested a summary of the lawsuit’s accusations.
ChatGPT responded, in part, that the complaint was “filed by Alan Gottlieb, the founder and executive vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), against Mark Walters, who is accused of defrauding and embezzling funds from the SAF.”
According to Walters’ complaint against OpenAI, all the information provided by ChatGPT relating to him was false. Riehl requested a copy of the complaint from ChatGPT, which responded with a filing that was a “complete fabrication and bears no resemblance to the actual complaint, including an erroneous case number,” the lawsuit states.
- Eugene Volokh, “Large Libel Models? Liability for AI Output,” Journal of Free Speech (rough draft, April 26)
Third Circuit: Police fired over bigoted social media posts can pursue First Amendment claims — but ‘a steep uphill climb’
- Michael Rubinkam, “Philly officers fired over social media posts can pursue First Amendment claim, court rules,” Associated Press/Police 1 (June 12)
A dozen Philadelphia police officers who were fired or suspended for racist and violent social media posts can pursue a lawsuit against the city claiming their First Amendment rights were violated, a federal appeals court ruled.
The officers' social media accounts were included in a database, published in 2019, that cataloged thousands of bigoted or violent posts by active-duty and former police officers in several states.
In Philadelphia, nearly 200 officers were disciplined, including 15 who were forced off the job. Twelve officers subsequently filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city, asserting the police department had retaliated against them for exercising their First Amendment rights.
[. . .]
In a ruling Thursday, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it agreed the content was “offensive, racist and violent,” adding it does not “condone the officers’ use of social media to mock, disparage, and threaten the very communities they were sworn to protect.”
[. . .]
But the court said Tucker's decision to throw out the case was premature, given what it said was a lack of clarity over the provenance of some of the posts, which posts were the subject of discipline by the police department, and the ‘unadorned speculation’ about the posts’ impact.
The court sent the case back to the lower court, saying the officers could continue to pursue their claims while noting they “undoubtedly face a steep uphill climb in ultimately proving their case.”
- Fenico v. City of Philadelphia (3rd Cir. June 8, 2023)
Moraff on SCOTUS’ true threats case
- Laura Moraff, “Core First Amendment Rights are Implicated in this Supreme Court Case about True Threats,” ACLU (June 12)
The internet is full of strong, impassioned, sometimes offensive language. In response to an activist’s post about being choked by a sheriff’s deputy, someone posted to Facebook, “Wow, brother they wanna hit our general. It’s time to strike back. Let’s burn this motherfucker’s house down.” And someone listening to music posted lyrics about “student bodies lying dead in the halls, a blood-splattered treatise of hate.”
While this speech might be offensive — or even feel threatening — to some people, to others it is an expression of a political opinion, an unfiltered reaction to a recent event, or an attempt to rally support for a cause. The freedom to share provocative ideas and spark robust debate about political issues is essential to democracy, social justice, and progress. Our right to free speech generally protects such communications.
However, “true threats” are not protected by the First Amendment. The government can prosecute someone who intentionally threatens another person with death or serious bodily harm, and whose language is reasonably perceived as threatening. But can a speaker be convicted of making a true threat solely because some people could reasonably perceive it as threatening, regardless of the speaker’s intent? That’s the question before the Supreme Court in Counterman v. Colorado.
The ACLU and its coalition partners filed an amicus brief arguing that the First Amendment requires ‘subjective intent to threaten’ as a necessary element of a true threat. In other words, to meet the legal threshold for a “true threat,” the speaker’s own intent must be taken into account. This would allow a jury to consider the speaker’s state of mind when the threat was made, and ensure that speakers aren’t criminally convicted for failures to predict how people might interpret their speech.
Forthcoming video: First Amendment Salon on NYT v. Sullivan
Earlier this week, The First Amendment Salon hosted an exchange between Samantha Barbas (professor, University of Buffalo Law School) and Laura Handman (partner, Davis Wright Tremaine). The exchange was introduced by Eric Feder (partner, Davis Wright Tremaine).
The focus of the Salon was Professor Barbas’ new book “Actual Malice: Civil Rights and Freedom of the Press in New York Times v. Sullivan” (University of California Press, 2023).
Forthcoming book on history of dissent
- Ralph Young, “American Patriots: A Short History of Dissent,” NYU Press (Forthcoming, Jan. 9, 2024)
The history of America is a history of dissent. Protests against the British Parliament’s taxation policies led to the American Revolution and the creation of the United States. At the Constitutional Convention the founders put the right to protest in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. In the nineteenth century, dissenters protested against the War of 1812 and the Mexican War, they demanded the abolition of slavery, suffrage for women, and fair treatment for workers. In the twentieth century, millions of Americans participated in the Civil Rights Movement, the antiwar movement, and second-wave feminism. In the twenty-first century, hundreds of thousands protested the war in Iraq, joined the 2011 Occupy movement, the 2017 Women’s March, and the 2020 Black Lives Matter uprisings. The crowds grew larger than ever, but the sentiments expressed were familiar. There have been dissenting Americans for as long as there has been an America.
In American Patriots, historian Ralph Young chronicles the key role dissent has played in shaping the United States. He explains that activists are not protesting against America, but pushing the country to live up to its ideals. As he guides the reader through the history of protest, Young considers how ordinary Americans, from moderates to firebrands, responded to injustice. He highlights the work of organizations like SNCC and ACT UP, and he follows iconic individuals like Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Woody Guthrie, charting the impact of their dissent. Some of these protesters are celebrated heroes of American history, while others are ordinary people, frequently overlooked, whose stories show that change is often accomplished through grassroots activism.
Yet not all dissent is equal. In 2021, thousands of rioters stormed the US Capitol, and Americans on both sides of the aisle watched the destruction with horror. American Patriots contrasts this attack with the long history of American protest, and challenges us to explore our definition of dissent. Does it express a legitimate grievance or a smokescreen for undermining democracy? What are the limits of dissent? Where does dissent end and sedition begin?
In a time when legitimate dissent is framed as unpatriotic, Young reminds us of the dissenters who have shaped our country’s history. American Patriots is a necessary defense of our right to demand better for ourselves, our communities, and our nation.
Forthcoming Zoom event on free speech and the trial of Socrates
This 3-day course will examine the 399 BC trial of Socrates by way of the accounts offered by Plato and Xenophon. The course will have a historical, political, and philosophic focus with due account given to the free speech aspects of the case and will consider the following questions:
- What exactly were the charges leveled against Socrates and what were his replies to them?
- How strong was the prosecution’s case?
- How convincing were Socrates’ arguments?
- Was the guilty verdict of the Athenian jury warranted?
- Was the jury’s death sentence warranted (and what of Socrates’ hubris)?
- In The Clouds, Aristophanes is a named accuser of the old charges against Socrates; what are his criticisms of Socrates?
- How much uninhibited free speech of the Socratic kind can any democracy (then or now) tolerate given the threats posed by the likes of Socrates?
- Is philosophy, when taken seriously and publicly, compatible with democracy?
Michael Ormond studied under Leo Strauss (a noted political philosopher) at the University of Chicago and then did his graduate work at Cornell University under Allan Bloom (a noted student of Strauss’). He has taught classical political philosophy for decades, more recently in adult-education programs. Ronald Collins studied under Professor Ormond in his college years. He is the Lewes Library’s Distinguished Lecturer and author of a dozen books.
To better ensure a robust discussion, attendees are encouraged to do a careful reading of the assigned texts. The amount of the assigned reading is relatively modest in length. Assigned texts are:
Four Texts on Socrates: Plato’s “Euthyphro,” “Apology of Socrates,” and “Crito” and Aristophanes’ “Clouds” by Thomas West. The library will have a copy of the book available to read in the library or to make copies. It also may be purchased at local, independent bookstore Browseabout Books.
Registration is required.
More in the news
- Eugene Volokh, “Dr. Luke Is a Public Figure for Purposes of His Libel Lawsuit Against Ke$ha,” The Volokh Conspiracy (June 13)
- Sabrina Conza, “Proposed DEI policy at CSU Dominguez Hills unconstitutionally compels faculty to prioritize diversity values in teaching,” FIRE (June 13)
- Eugene Volokh, “No First Amendment Academic Freedom Right to Give Quizzes in Public University Class,” The Volokh Conspiracy (June 12)
- Eugene Volokh, “If Employee Is Fired for Off-the-Job Political Speech, Can He Be Denied Unemployment Compensation?,” The Volokh Conspiracy (June 12)
- “VICTORY: Court orders Texas university to provide records showing how admins censored then commandeered an independent student newspaper,” FIRE (June 12)
- Jessica Gresko, “Ruff day in court: Supreme Court sides with Jack Daniel's in dispute with makers of dog toy,” Associated Press/The Free Speech Center (June 9)
2022-2023 SCOTUS term: Free expression and related cases
- Jack Daniel’s Properties, Inc. v. VIP Products LLC ( Held, 9-0, SCOTUSblog: — “When a defendant in a trademark suit uses the mark as a designation of source for its own goods or services — i.e., as a trademark — the threshold Rogers test for trademark infringement claims challenging so-called expressive works, see Rogers v. Grimaldi, does not apply, and the Lanham Act’s exclusion from liability for ‘[a]ny non-commercial use of a mark’ does not shield parody, criticism, or commentary from a claim of trademark dilution.” This from footnote 1 of the majority opinion: “To be clear, when we refer to ‘the Rogers threshold test,’ we mean any threshold First Amendment filter.” (Justice Kagan wrote the majority. Justice Sotomayor filed a concurring opinion, in which Justice Alito joined. Justice Gorsuch filed a concurring opinion, in which Justices Thomas and Barrett joined.)
- Twitter v. Taamneh (Liability Anti-Terrorism Act: Held, 9-0 per Thomas, J.: SCOTUSblog: “Plaintiffs’ allegations that the social-media-company defendants aided and abetted ISIS in its terrorist attack on a nightclub in Instanbul, Turkey fail to state a claim under 18 U.S.C. § 2333(d)(2).”)
- Gonzalez v. Google (Section 230 immunity: Held, 9-0, per curiam, SCOTUSblog: “The 9th Circuit’s judgment — which held that plaintiffs’ complaint was barred by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — is vacated, and the case is remanded for reconsideration in light of the court’s decision in Twitter, Inc. v. Taamneh.”)
- Vidal v. Elster
- O’Connor-Ratcliff v. Garnier
- 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis (argued Dec. 5)
- Jack Daniel’s Properties, Inc. v. VIP Products LLC (argued March 22)
- United States v. Hansen (argued, March 27) (Volokh commentary here)
- Counterman v. Colorado (argued, April 19)
- Center for Medical Progress v. National Abortion Federation
- Mazo v. Way
- Tingley v. Ferguson
- Frese v. Formella
- National Rifle Association of America v. Vullo
- Mobilize the Message v. Bonta
- U.S. v. Hernandez-Calvillo
- Moody v. NetChoice, LLC
- NetChoice, LLC v. Moody
- Florida v. NetChoice
- Klein v. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries
- Novak v. City of Parma (cert. denied)
Immunity under Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act
- NSO Group Technologies Limited v. WhatsApp, Inc. (cert. denied)
- North Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans v. North Carolina Dept. of Transportation
- Price v. Garland
- Keister v. Bell
- Morgan v. Arizona
This article is part of First Amendment News, an editorially independent publication edited by Ronald K. L. Collins and hosted by FIRE as part of our mission to educate the public about First Amendment issues. The opinions expressed are those of the article's author(s) and may not reflect the opinions of FIRE or of Mr. Collins.
On today's free speech news roundup, we discuss the recent NetChoice oral argument, Taylor Swift, doxxing, October 7 fallout on campus, and Satan in Iowa. Joining us on the show are Alex Morey, FIRE director of Campus Rights Advocacy; Aaron...