Washington Post Live’s ‘Free to State’: Killer Mike, The Slants, and more (VIDEO)

June 19, 2019

The Washington Post and the Knight Foundation Monday hosted their 3rd annual Free to State summit on the First Amendment in Washington, D.C. The event included a series of live panels that, this year, focused on “subjective interpretations of free speech protections when it comes to artistic expression.” Several FIRE staffers were in attendance for the panel discussion on “Artistic Expression and The First Amendment.” Today, video of the event is up and we think it’s worth viewing for a number of reasons, including the panelists’ discussion of several FIRE issues.

The discussion included Run the Jewels rapper and activist Michael “Killer Mike” Render; The Slants band member and successful Supreme Court plaintiff Simon Tam; and attorney John P. Elwood, a partner at Vinson & Elkins LLP who has argued before the Supreme Court nine times. Panelists covered Killer Mike’s defense of Jamal Knox and Bill Maher, Elwood’s careful analysis of case law regarding artistic expression and true threats, and Tam’s firsthand account of the Supreme Court’s unanimously ruling for him and his bandmates in the landmark trademark registration case, Matal v. Tam.

Highlights included some FIRE-related issues, notably a recap of The Slants’ legal saga and Killer Mike’s passionate defense of artistic freedom.

“Artists are not in charge of seeing the bar and stopping at it,” he said at the event, “Our job is to jump … to push limits.”

FIRE agrees. And our 2018 report on campus art censorship, “One Man’s Vulgarity,” delves into that very topic; specifically, the recent history of artists struggling to keep their voices in academe.

FIRE has, likewise, followed The Slants’ legal battle against censorship of their band name. We documented their journey on several episodes of FIRE’s So to Speak podcast, including a video interview conducted during their legal battle and a recap of the Supreme Court’s favorable ruling.

You can watch other “Free to State” panels and find our more about future speech-related events over at The Washington Post.