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Free Speech

Free Speech

Discussion and Essay Questions

Available to teachers only as part of the Teaching Free SpeechTeacher Pass

Teaching Free Speech Teacher Pass includes:

  • Assignments & Activities
  • Reading Quizzes
  • Current Events & Pop Culture articles
  • Discussion & Essay Questions
  • Challenges & Opportunities
  • Related Readings in Literature & History

Sample of Discussion and Essay Questions

  1. From Deep Throat to Bong Hits for Jesu
    • What is your first reaction—should pornography be protected by the First Amendment?
    • What about speeches that advocate illegal activities or violence?
    • Should only political speech be protected?
      • Would this be consistent with your understanding of the purposes of the American Revolution?
  2. Roots of Free Speech Laws
    • How “free” was the British understanding of free speech?
      • What was its only real guarantee?
      • Is this your understanding of free speech?
        • If you can be jailed for what you say, is speech really protected?
      • Explain the bad tendency test?
        • Why do you suppose British courts used this test to measure sedition?
    • What was the most critical legal innovation established in the Zenger trial?
  3. Writing the First Amendment
    • What was Madison’s attitude toward the Bill of Rights?
      • How did his commitment to rights of speech differ?
    • Compare Madison’s draft to the adopted language of the First Amendment—what are the differences?
    • Why has Madison’s version of free speech been labeled a “contingent” right?
      • Was Madison committed to free speech because people had a natural right to say what they wanted? Or did free speech serve a larger purpose?
        • How might this affect Madison’s definition of permissible speech?
    • How did Americans’ republican philosophies limit their interpretation of appropriate speech?
    • Overall, in what ways were the framers understanding of free speech more narrow than contemporary understandings?
  4. The Sedition Act
    • In what ways did the Sedition Act reflect the framers' more conservative understanding of free speech? In what ways did the Sedition Act actually advance an understanding of free speech that was more liberal than the British?
      • What was the “original meaning” of freedom of speech?
        • Based on the ideas of Madison, the adopted language of the amendment, republican philosophy, and the Sedition Act, what did free speech mean to the founding generation?
        • How do the ideas of Tunis Wortman stretch the First Amendment toward contemporary understandings?
      • How would current rights of speech be different if the more narrow understanding had persisted?
        • What would not be protected?