Free Speech and Human Dignity


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Steven J. Heyman

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Debates over hate speech, pornography, and other sorts of controversial speech raise issues that go to the core of the First Amendment. Supporters of regulation argue that these forms of expression cause serious injury to individuals and groups, assaulting their dignity as human beings and citizens. Civil libertarians respond that our commitment to free speech is measured by our willingness to protect it, even when it causes harm or offends our deepest values.


In this important book, Steven J. Heyman presents a theory of the First Amendment that seeks to overcome the conflict between free speech and human dignity. This liberal humanist theory recognizes a strong right to freedom of expression while also providing protection against the most serious forms of assaultive speech. Heyman then uses the theory to illuminate a wide range of contemporary disputes, from flag burning and antiabortion demonstrations to pornography and hate speech.

Steven J. Heyman is professor of law, Chicago-Kent College of Law. He lives in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago.

“Steven J. Heyman’s liberal humanism exhibits a profound understanding of the tragic conflicts often presented in free speech cases. This is an exciting contribution to the first amendment literature.”—Steven Shiffrin, Charles Frank Reavis Sr. Professor of Law, Cornell University


“In Free Speech and Human Dignity, Steve Heyman shows us the original understanding of the First Amendment guarantees of free speech, thought, and worship as a part of a broad array of natural rights including dignity, personal security, personality, and community. This important book gives us a fresh interpretation of the First Amendment that is both liberal and humanist and leaves the reader with a far deeper appreciation of the natural rights tradition at its heart.”—Robin West, Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center

"Free Speech and Human Dignity offers an elegant, clear-headed, and fair-minded argument for the regulation of speech that is inconsistent with human dignity. Heyman presents the most convincing possible case for the legal prohibition of such speech. His book should be studied by all who are concerned to understand this difficult and significant issue."—Robert Post, David Boies Professor of Law, Yale Law School

“A fascinating work demonstrating how insights from the eighteenth century may properly inform answers to pressing constitutional problems of the present.”—Mark Graber, Professor of Law and Government, University of Maryland School of Law and author of Dred Scott and the Problem of Constitutional Evil

"It is origianl and thought provoking and is sure to provide fodder for many fruitful discussions. It could be used in a range of undergraduate or graduate seminars dealing with civil liberties, civil rights, or equality issues."—Paul Weizer, Law and Politics Review
ISBN: 9780300114867
Publication Date: May 20, 2008
320 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4