September 20, 2017

“Hate Speech and the Culture Wars,” co-sponsored by The Floersheimer Center for Constitutional Democracy, the Cardozo Law Institute in Holocaust and Human Rights, and the Program in Comparative Constitutions drew a capacity crowd in the Jacob Burns Moot Courtroom. An all-star panel engaged in a deep and complex discussion of hate speech and its impact on democracy, and on current events from Charlottesville to Facebook's policies and their impact. 

Professor Kate Shaw, who co-directs the Floersheimer Center, moderated the discussion. The participants included Ulrich Baer of New York University; Susan Benesch of Harvard University; Robert C. Post, former Dean of Yale Law School; and Cardozo’s own faculty members, Professor Stanley Fish, University Professor Michel Rosenfeld and Professor Ekow N. Yankah.

The panel covered issues such as how the rise of the Internet has impacted free speech, who is responsible for creating free speech rules on the Internet and how private companies and academic institutions can deal with speech issues in classrooms and throughout the culture. Much of the discussion focused on how various constitutional democracies regulate speech and whether the American system, with its First Amendment guarantee of free speech, can deal differently with hate speech in the context of the current political climate and the magnifying effect of social media. Susan Benesch, who oversees the Dangerous Speech Project at Harvard, pointed out that the rules of free speech on the Internet are opaque and asked, "who makes the rules?" 

Robert Post commented, "we are all struggling with how to understand the Internet." He and conference organizer University Professor Michel Rosenfeld sparred over definitions of hate speech and whether the United States with its First Amendement protections actually does or does not restrict speech. Cardozo Visiting Professor Stanely Fish argued that there is no such thing as hate speech, that it is merely definitional and determined by the speaker. 

Professor Yankah’s commentary at the end of the panel focused on the bigger picture: “Things that I know well are the ways in which the law can stop crises to democracies…where we all agree is that there are many things that the laws can’t fix. Much of this is just the work we have to do to keep our norms healthy. They are the work of civil society, not civic society. My worry is that I look at a country where the only thing that shocks is Charlottesville.”

The video of the panel discussion will be available here in coming weeks.