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Free Speech Beyond Words

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Free Speech Beyond Words
The Surprising Reach of the First Amendment
By Mark V. Tushnet, Alan K. Chen, and Joseph Blocher
NYU Press, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-4798-8028-7

Reviewed by Harry S. Chou - March 20, 2017

We've all heard that the First Amendment is under attack. But what is the First Amendment, and why is it so important? This amendment covers a host of topics such as the Freedom of Religion and the Freedom of Assembly, but for the purposes of this review, we'll focus on one topic - the Freedom of Speech.

For starters, here is the text of this amendment:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." (Constitution of the United States of America - Amendment I of the Bill of Rights)
In their new book, Free Speech Beyond Words, the book's authors: Mark V. Tushnet, Alan K. Chen, and Joseph Blocher, contend that free speech transcends oral speech and the written word. Free speech also covers traditional art and music. The authors and many legal scholars also contend that free speech includes non-representational art and instrumental music. They also content that something called 'nonsense' is also covered. In this timely book the authors examine these less traditional forms of free speech, and to examine what is meant by nonsense speech (speech or an action that lacks meaning) and how the courts have reacted to cases concerning nonsense speech.

The information provided in this timely book is divided into three main parts, instrumental music, non-representational, and nonsense speech. In each section the authors provide an overview of each type of speech, how these types of speech have been viewed by the courts, and what these types of speech mean for average Americans. The book concludes with a section called "Going Further" that looks at other forms of expression that are covered under the banner of free speech, such as dance, nonobscene pornography, sports, culinary arts, subliminal messages, new media, video games, and much more. The end result is a comprehensive overview of non-traditional forms of free speech and how they have been judged by the court system.

Free Speech Beyond Words offers students of Free Speech, politicians, legal scholars, and the average person on the street a detailed and engaging overview of this tantalizing subject. For those who want to study this subject in more detail, the authors have included an up-to-date bibliography and extensive endnotes that will guide you to additional resources on this subject.


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