The First Amendment has moved to the center of American political conflict. On college campuses, students and faculty demand protection from speech and speakers. Polls show students and young people in general evince less support for free speech than previous generations had shown. In legal and public debate, the free exercise of religion conflicts with the right to marriage, thereby placing the First Amendment at the center of vitriolic cultural clashes. Moreover, the challenges for the First Amendment seemed fated to grow. Modern surveillance methods can chill speech even absent malign intent from officials. The global nature of the Internet also means that regulations arising from nations less protective of speech than the United States might become the rule for all. If this were not enough, traditional First Amendment issues such as campaign finance remain controversial during and after hard-fought elections. Cato's first conference on the First Amendment, a new biennial effort, offers provocative and thoughtful views on these issues.
Emily Ekins, Cato Institute
Jeffrey Herbst, Consultant and Scholar
Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic
Kmele Foster, Freethink