If we disagree with an idea, if we despise it, we should answer it back, not suppress it.
New York Law School professor, and former president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Nadine Strossen, has a dedicated passion for freedom of expression. Professor Strossen discusses what freedom of expression entails as part of our video series with Big Think on the core concepts of classical liberalism.
Freedom of expression, she says, overlaps with rules enforced by the U.S. Supreme Court and under international human rights law.
[Freedom of expression] really is a universally accepted standard that reduces the power of any external authority.– Nadine Strossen
There are two fundamental principles that freedom of expression rest upon: the content neutrality principle and the emergency principle. The content neutrality principle details when the government cannot restrict speech.
“If we disagree with an idea, if we despise it, we should answer it back, not suppress it,” Strossen says.
If in a particular context, that speech directly causes specific and imminent harm, and the only way to prevent the harm is to suppress the speech, then the emergency principle indicates that the role of government is to restrict this speech.
She continues the lesson with examples of the emergency principle and an explanation of the heckler’s veto, as it pertains to freedom of expression. Strossen argues that the government should not intervene and stop a speaker from proceeding with their talk, even if people object to the speaker’s ideas and are threatening violence.
The government has to protect the speaker and the audience members who choose to hear that speaker against the violence by the protestors.– Nadine Strossen