Free Speech Project hosts panel on First Amendment

November 5, 2017

The Georgetown Free Speech Project held a panel on the recent Charlottesville protests on Oct. 29. The event brought together four diverse, high-profile voices to speak on the first amendment.

The panel, titled “The Shadow of Charlottesville: Free Speech at a Crossroads,” featured District Judge Paula Xinis, civil rights activist DeRay Mckesson, Timothy Longo, Charlottesville’s former police chief, and Arthur Spitzer of the American Civil Liberties Union. Sanford Ungar, director of the Free Speech Project, moderated.

The conversation, while grounded in Charlottesville, covered other issues of free speech, both nationwide and at Georgetown. The speakers presented a wide variety of stances on the first amendment, and frequently clashed among themselves.

For William Haskell, principal research assistant for the Free Speech Project, this was key to the panel’s success. “Their discussion explored a tension between the ACLU and Mckesson’s civil rights agenda,” Haskell wrote in an email to the Voice. “I really appreciated that the panelists weren’t afraid to disagree with one another…I think it’s important to note that these are issues on which a lot of smart people disagree.”

Nate Rowe (COL ‘21), in attendance on Monday, agreed. “Because of the scope of [the topic] a lot of the complexity often gets lost,” he said. “It was refreshing to see the diverse viewpoints that we see in the world being able to come together in a more constructive way.”

The Free Speech Project aims to explore these differences. The nonpartisan initiative

tracks free speech controversies nationwide and collects analysis on the issue. In two years, the project will release its findings and offer suggestions on how best to approach the topic of free speech as it continues to be a point of contention, on and off college campuses.

The panel was held at a significant time for free speech issues at Georgetown. The university attracted public scrutiny after students demanded to defund Love Saxa, an official student organization that advocates Catholic teachings on relationships, due to its stance on same-sex marriage.

“This academic endeavor wasn’t launched to study some abstract issue or dilemma,” Haskell wrote. “This is a crucial debate facing our generation.”

The Free Speech Project will continue to advance this debate over the coming months.

Katya Schwenk
Katya is a contributing editor for the Voice. She studies government, creative writing, and Arabic, and is very passionate about news and mountains.

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