15th February 2014
Floyd Abrams clarifies the increasingly ABSOLUTE nature of freedom of speech in USA
This summary of the legal position re: the First Amendment in USA, and the withering away of libel for a number of people, by Floyd Abrams. This is precisely what we need in India. Even more.
The U.S. has an "astonishing" and "breathtaking" degree of freedom for people, organizations, and institutions to have their say. Abrams talks about where this freedom meets its limits.
Question: Are there boundaries to freedom of speech and freedom of the press?Floyd Abrams: There have always been boundaries on freedom of speech and freedom of the press. At different times they've been interpreted more or less strictly. I mean, we've always had libel law for example. People have always been able to sue when false things were said about them, which harmed them. However in 1964 the Supreme Court in one of its greatest opinions, New York Times against Sullivan, basically decided that there was, in the interest of protecting freedom of speech, a need to expand beyond old law like when I was in law school for example, we were taught libelous material isn't protected by the First Amendment. Well, that's still true but what the court said in 1964 was in defining what's libelous we have to take into account the First Amendment, and in particular when you speak about a public person, public figure, a public official, there can't be a winning libel suit against you unless you basically lied—said something you knew was false or you suspected wasn't true. That's just one example. The area of national security, we have some statutes which make it a crime to publish details about building atomic weapons. In the area of national security the government has sought to and I would say has established the proposition that if they can get to court with respect to material which would really, really cripple the country in the sense of making it impossible for the country and its people to be safe from eminent harm caused as a result of the speech itself, why then the Supreme Court has said that there can be a prior restraint, an injunction against the speech. But not much. I mean, America has always been the country in the world with more protection for speech, more protection for religion, those two areas in particular, more protection for freedom of the press which together with freedom of speech have a sort of a common body of law than any country in the history of the world. It's not to say we haven't had real… and real big First Amendment problems sometimes and First Amendment deprivations sometimes. But taken as a whole its been really a astonishing, a breathtaking degree of personal freedom for people, for organizations, for institutions to have their say.