Should robots have free speech protections?

Should robots have free speech protections?

81128567_MThe Founding Fathers probably never saw this coming: A digital era in which humans aren’t the only ones communicating. Set aside your fears of a robot-dominated dystopia for a moment and think about this: Robots and artificial intelligence are increasingly present in online conversations and media, which means free speech considerations are starting to crop up.

What does this mean for us? As a recent Slate article argued, now is the best time to start thinking about how we protect (or restrict) speech produced by robots. If we don’t, then our fundamental First Amendment freedoms could be at stake as we interact more online. How do you think we should apply the First Amendment to robotic speech (if at all)? Here are some things we need to critically evaluate in the coming years:

The First Amendment Doesn’t Specify Humans

Although it may seem obvious that the Constitution was written by people, for people, this doesn’t necessarily mean the protections within our country’s legal framework are exclusively limited to humans. Other legal challenges in the U.S. – such as the debate over legal personhood for chimps and apes – and abroad – such as Saudi Arabia granting citizenship to a humanlike robot in 2017 – demonstrate how our modern society is changing its attitudes towards nonhuman beings in our global society.

Should the First Amendment only apply to humans? If the government is forbidden from “abridging the freedom of speech,” then could speech produced by robots and AI be protected as well? A literal reading of the Constitution suggests this might be the case, but it’s ultimately up to citizens and policymakers to decide.

Fundamental Freedoms Are at Stake

A major concern about free speech for robots doesn’t even involve robots – it involves universal protections for fundamental freedoms like speech and expression. If you look at FIRE’s history of free speech records, you’ll find several instances throughout English and American history when the First Amendment was violated for arbitrary reasons, such as Union Army General Ambrose Burnside’s suspension of the Chicago Times in 1893, the 1918 Sedition Act that prevented spoken or written criticism of the U.S. government, and the 1938 ban on Life Magazine after the media organization produced a public health documentary on childbirth.

In the present-day context, First Amendment right violations occur on a regular basis, from school dress codes primarily targeting female students to the suppression of freedom of speech on college campuses. By ignoring the growing issue of robots and free speech, we could be fracturing the universality of free speech protections. Even if we do not give robots and related technologies the right to freedom of expression, we still need to figure out what to do about this matter during a time when thousands of bots are posing as real human beings in online interactions.

Regulating Robots’ Speech is Nearly Impossible

Whether you believe robotic speech derives from human programmers or it comes from robots themselves, the fact of the matter is: regulating bots online would be next to impossible to enforce. There are millions (if not billions) of bots on social media websites, and we do not have the regulatory framework or government funding needed to regulate all instances of robotic speech.

Additionally, how would regulating robotic speech even work? We will never be able to eliminate bots entirely from the Internet, imposing fines wouldn’t work because that would require a human to be directly involved and held accountable, and since bots are mostly anonymous, how could we determine if the bot is programmed by a human or running autonomously?

Ultimately, there’s no clear solution for regulating robotic speech under the First Amendment. It could be that only human beings deserve rights under the law, but it could also be that robots are too widespread online to bother with regulating them (our government simply doesn’t have the billions of dollars needed to do this). So what do you think? Should we restrict robotic speech or grant it protection under the First Amendment?

How Tennessee became a model for free speech protections on college campuses

How Tennessee became a model for free speech protections on college campuses

42118922 - african american teacher teaching at front of classOn January 1, Tennessee’s Campus Free Speech Protection Act (Senate Bill 723) went into effect. The law is designed to offer comprehensive protections for free speech rights on college campuses.

During a time when free speech freedoms are being heavily restricted by many college campuses nationwide, the new Tennessee measure is a breath of fresh air for First Amendment supporters. As FIRE’s Legislative and Policy Director Joe Cohn stated, “protecting the free speech rights of students and faculty on public college campuses across Tennessee is an important victory for everyone who cares about the future of higher education.”

So what makes Tennessee’s Campus Free Speech Protection Act so important? Here are some provisions that other states should strongly consider adding to their own legislative agendas in 2018:

Freedom of Expression for All

Section 4(b) of the Campus Free Speech Protection Act states: “Public institutions of higher education embrace a commitment to the freedom of speech and expression for all students and all faculty.” This is an enormous step forward in light of recent protests against speakers of certain political affiliations and the suppression of religious minority groups’ freedom of expression on college campuses throughout the country.

Additionally, the inclusion of Section 4(d) attempts to end First Amendment restrictions like “free speech zones” and unequal speaking engagement acceptances by forbidding all public higher education institutions from “[stifling] freedom of speech and expression by implementing vague or overly broad speech codes, establishing free speech zones, imposing unconstitutional prior restraints on speech, or disinviting speakers based on the anticipated reaction or opposition of others to the content of speech.”

Free Speech Protections for Nontenured Faculty

Section 5(2) of the bill defines “faculty” as “tenured and non-tenured professors, adjunct professors, visiting professors, lecturers, graduate student instructors, and those in comparable positions.” Since Section 4 of the bill guarantees freedom of speech and expression for “faculty,” Section 5 expands free speech protections for adjunct professors and graduate student teachers, who have been historically denied true freedom of expression on campus with threats of revoked research funding and/or job loss. Protecting freedom of speech for faculty who — unlike tenured faculty — can be fired from their jobs more easily is an important step towards advancing First Amendment rights for everyone on campuses.

Eliminating Subjective Evaluations About Free Speech

Section 6(3) of the Campus Free Speech Protection Act reads: “An institution shall be committed to maintaining a campus as a marketplace of ideas for all students and all faculty in which the free exchange of ideas is not to be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the institution’s community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, indecent, disagreeable, conservative, liberal, traditional, radical, or wrong-headed.”

Since many universities nationwide have established committees that unilaterally determine the offensiveness of a speech act (typically based on vague criteria), the Tennessee bill significantly expands freedom of speech for students and faculty by eliminating subjective criteria and promoting campus environments as “marketplaces of ideas” instead.

In conclusion, Tennessee’s Campus Free Speech Protection Act represents a tremendous step in the right direction for protecting First Amendment rights on college campuses. A public institution like a university should not be immune from the fundamental rights guaranteed by our national Constitution, and Tennessee should serve as a model for other states to follow in the coming years.

Four troubling facts about freedom of speech on college campuses

Four troubling facts about freedom of speech on college campuses

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) recently released their 2018 report on free speech codes on college campuses. The extensive report outlines a ratings system for colleges’ free speech policies, ranging from highly restrictive (red light) to policies that do not seriously threaten or hinder free speech (green light). If you’re concerned about the state of freedom of speech on college campuses, here are some of the most troubling findings from the FIRE report:

Free Speech Restrictions Are Still Significant

Nearly one-third of colleges in FIRE’s report received a red-light rating, which means they have some of the most anti-free speech policies that clearly and significantly restrict individuals’ rights on campus. Although this number is on the decline compared to previous years, this figure is still too high for comfort, considering students’ and college employees’ basic First Amendment rights are at stake.

A Majority of Institutions Have Vague Free Speech Policies

More than 58% of colleges in FIRE’s latest study have vague policies that could either protect or suppress freedom of speech on campus. The wording of these policies are simply too unclear to determine the outcome in potential scenarios, which could lead to dangerous precedents that restrict student and faculty members’ fundamental rights.

Some Colleges Have Implemented “Free Speech Zones”

As we’ve discussed previously, free speech zones on college campuses are likely unconstitutional, drawing from recent court decisions against universities that implemented specific areas of their campuses for open expression. Free speech zones may sound like good ideas initially, until you realize these are actually quite restrictive of students’ and members of the public’s rights to freedom of speech and expression.

If it’s a public community college or university, then why limit freedom of speech to a tiny area of campus? Proponents of free speech zones argue that protests and other disruptive speech acts could hinder students’ ability to get to or concentrate in class. However, these arguments completely ignore the fact that freedom of speech knows no physical boundaries; you cannot limit this freedom to a small, 10′x10′ space on campus. Although one-in-ten colleges currently maintain some kind of free speech zone, the growing number of legal appeals against these zones we’re hopeful that they will be rendered obsolete in the future.

Bias Response Teams Are Evaluating Offensive Speech

According to the FIRE study, 30% of colleges (and more than 50% of private universities) have a “bias response team” on campus. This team is designed to respond to student and faculty reports of speech they deem “offensive” or “hate speech,” either in the classroom, around campus, or elsewhere on the college’s property. Although what constitutes “offensive” speech is largely contestable, these bias response teams use anonymous reports from students to restrict other students’ freedom of expression.

Freedom of the press is under attack worldwide

Freedom of the press is under attack worldwide

13564620_MAccording to a recent report, freedom of the press worldwide is at its lowest level in more than a decade. This decline has been linked to many different causes, including harassment and violence against journalists, media corruption, Internet censorship, “fake news” rhetoric, and fewer legal protections for those practicing their freedoms of expression.

In 2016, more than 250 journalists were imprisoned and 59 journalists were killed in their line of work. In Mexico alone, there were more than 420 reported attacks against journalists, and even the United Kingdom enacted the Investigatory Powers Act (also known as the “Snoopers’ Charter) to track citizens and journalists online. In Turkey, more than 150 journalists are still in prison and 170 media organizations have been shut down since the 2016 coup.

In the U.S., violence against journalists has also been increasing. Montana congressman Greg Gianforte assaulted a reporter from The Guardian shortly before he was elected to Congress, and Alaskan Senator David Wilson slapped a reporter from the Alaska Dispatch News in the face. Media organizations also have expressed concern about President Trump’s retweet of a GIF in which he threw a body — with a CNN logo as its head — to the ground.

What’s concerning about the latest attacks on our press freedoms is that they’re no longer limited to authoritarian regimes. Democratic countries with longstanding histories of press freedoms are also contributing to the climate of mistrust and violence, oftentimes through public officials trying to discredit credible news organizations and enacting legislation designed to limit press freedoms.

Without a free press, nations cannot remain democratic. Freedom of the press is integral to the well-being of a democracy by informing the public, mediating the relationship between citizens and their political representatives, and holding politicians accountable for their actions, both in office and in their everyday conduct. Since our very tenets of democracy are now at stake, we must come together to promote freedom of the press.

To protect the freedom of the press in both America and globally, citizens must come together and let their voices be heard. By contacting your congressional and local representatives to let them know you deeply value your First Amendment freedoms and want the press to remain free to report on all issues of societal concern without obstruction, you can make a difference. Additionally, you can lend monetary or volunteer support to organizations such as Free Press, which advocate on behalf of journalists and media organizations that want to preserve our most fundamental First Amendment rights.

Preserving freedom of the press in an era of “fake news”

Preserving freedom of the press in an era of “fake news”

49924697_SThe free press in American society is under attack by political figures and everyday citizens calling articles written by reputable news organizations “fake news”. It’s an attempt to discredit journalists and diminish the credibility of reports that are seen as critical of politicians and/or government policies. “Fake news” is threatening the very foundations of our First Amendment rights pertaining to both freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

There are many different definitions of fake news, but we’ll focus on the main three: 1) Satire/parody, 2) “fake news” rhetoric and 3) Completely false news posing as real. Satire and parody news, such as Last Week Tonight and The Onion, create humorous (and obviously not real) articles meant as entertainment. Satire is a form of humorous critique that may contain elements of truth but presented in an exaggerated way to ridicule or expose the absurdity of a situation.

“Fake news” rhetoric is an entirely different matter. This is a political strategy that is being used to delegitimize traditional (mainstream) news organizations such as CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times by dismissing reports published or broadcast by these press outlets. NPR refers to “fake news” rhetoric as a form of alternative language, in which anyone of any political affiliation can rebuke a news story they disagree with by calling it “fake news”.

Finally, we have actual fake news, which the Pew Research Center reports is also causing a great deal of confusion in American society. Fake news in this sense refers to completely false stories, which often are used as part of a coordinated effort to sway public opinion and/or as a way to generate ad revenue. A Buzzfeed analysis found that many fake news stories about the 2016 presidential election outperformed real news stories on social media. For example, a fake news story about the Pope endorsing Donald Trump for president received 960,000 shares, comments, and likes on Facebook before the election, while a real news story from The Washington Post about Trump and Hillary Clinton’s histories of corruption received just 849,000 shares, comments, and likes.

How is fake news harming our First Amendment rights? As mentioned previously, the Pew Research Center says “fake news” is hurting our democracy by confusing the public about what is real journalism and facts and what is fake. A 2016 study of more than 376 million Facebook users’ interactions with 900+ media outlets found another problem: People tend to seek out information that aligns with their political views. “Fake news” rhetoric is exacerbating the problem by making it socially acceptable for people to reject legitimate media reports that don’t align with their views as merely “fake.”

The phenomenon of fake news and fake news rhetoric subsequently diminishes the free press protections of the First Amendment by delegitimizing reputable news outlets with a long history of credibility, thereby making it harder for them to report real news. What can we do to combat “fake news” and preserve the freedom of the press? To combat “fake news” and protect our First Amendment rights for all, education is key. We must be diligent as consumers when it comes to determining which news outlets are publishing blatantly false “clickbait” articles for the purpose of making money from ad revenue instead of informing the public about legitimate current events. Facebook, Google, and other online organizations are currently developing new algorithms for detecting fake stories and fake news outlets, but it’s also up to us as responsible Americans to educate ourselves and our communities about media literacy.

HowStuffWorks has published an awesome list of 10 ways to spot fake news stories, which includes double-checking information with other sources, checking the URL of the publisher, being wary of incredulous-sounding headlines, and many more. Facticious also developed a game to help students and everyday Americans alike learn how to detect fake news stories. Although “fake news” rhetoric and fake stories are likely to remain a problem for many years to come, it’s vital that we advocate for real journalism and avoid fake sources that want to make money instead of inform their audiences.

Do “free speech zones” on college campuses violate the First Amendment?

Do “free speech zones” on college campuses violate the First Amendment?

11058924_S“Free speech zones” were originally created during the Vietnam War as a way to control students’ protests against the war. Nowadays, these spaces are facing greater legal challenges and some judges have ruled that these spaces violate students’ First Amendment rights. Despite the high levels of political polarization in the U.S. currently, it is absolutely crucial that we strive to protect freedom of speech for all citizens.

The problem with limiting free speech to specified areas is that it’s not as simple as entering the free speech zone and saying anything you want in this designated space. In many cases, protestors need to notify the college or university in advance and not disrupt students’ classes through their vocalization of free speech. In some cases, the free speech zones are available only on a first come, first serve basis. Free speech zones also are restricted to one (usually small) area on a college campus, and campus security might need to get involved if counter-protestors arrive to blockade, verbally (or physically) attack the protestor, and/or if speech is determined to be “disruptive” to campus peace and stability.

On September 30, 2004, U.S. District Judge Sam R. Cummings of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas ruled that Texas Tech University’s free speech codes banning “insults,” “ridicule,” and “personal attacks” were unconstitutional, as well as the free speech zones that limited freedom of expression for students and outside protestors alike. In the decision, Cummings wrote that students should be able to practice their freedom of speech in areas on campus, “irrespective of whether the university has so designated them or not.”

Other universities and colleges in the U.S. have faced similar legal challenges to their free speech zones, and states including Virginia, Arizona, Kentucky, and Missouri have banned the establishment of free speech zones on campuses on the basis that freedom of speech should not be limited to only one designated area. Many colleges and universities in the U.S. still have free speech zones on their campuses, but those are facing heightened legal scrutiny as individuals and groups dedicated to the preservation of First Amendment rights for all continue challenging the existence of these zones and limitations on free speech in the courtroom.

Engage and inspire your community with the help of our training programs

Engage and inspire your community with the help of our training programs

36486272_MAt First Amendment Voice, it’s our goal to educate the entire American public about the protections provided by the First Amendment. To facilitate this process, we regularly provide training for community leaders and organizations in an effort to help spread the word about the importance of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press.

America’s founding principals apply to all of us, and it’s critical that our population is knowledgeable and aware of their impact on our day-to-day lives. This is especially true in terms of freedom of religion. Too often, religion is politicized, a process that draws division and conflict. Regardless of a person or community’s belief system, the United States Constitution protects their right to worship however they choose.

We have three presentations that address this very issue:

“This Far By Faith” highlights the significant achievements of America’s original founders and religious leaders. We also provide a comprehensive look at the Constitution and the First Amendment.

“A Clear and Present Danger” focuses on the religious persecution that various individuals have faced for speaking up about their faith or personal religion beliefs.

“Preserving Our 1st Amendment Rights” provides suggestions and insights on what steps citizens can take to address these attacks, and provide protection of religious speech regardless of belief.

If you would like to participate in one of these sessions, don’t hesitate to reach out! We have the tools and resources you need to educate and inspire your communities in this important effort. Visit our website to learn more!

ICYMI: “Own Your Liberty” National Symposium

ICYMI: “Own Your Liberty” National Symposium

Dear FAV Family,

For those of us blessed to participate in the 2nd Annual FAV “Own Your Liberty” National Symposium in Philadelphia, we truly experienced a special event. If you attended, thank you for joining us to celebrate an annual benchmark of the movement.

During the weekend, FAV thanked our sponsors from the Global Peace Foundation, the Charles Koch Institute, Veterans For American Ideals, the Douglas Leadership Institute, and the Nation’s Mosque. We are also grateful that all national advisory council members attended some portion of the Symposium. FAV began the weekend with a VIP reception and special tour of the National Constitution Center. We then hosted the Symposium the following day with speakers, students, delegates, and attendees from states across our union. Events featured luminaries like Dr. Harold Dean Trulear of Howard University, Dr. Wilson Goode, former Mayor of Philadelphia, Bishop Juan Carlos Mendez of Churches in Action of Los Angeles, Senator Stuart Adams of the Utah State Senate, Judge Nelson Diaz, and many others.

The morning plenary session featured Joe Cohn of Philadelphia’s own Foundation on Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Saeed Khan from Wayne State University, and Chelsea Langston-Bombino from the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance (IRFA). Our lunchtime breakout training featured the Alliance for an Indivisible America 2020 and focused grassroots advocacy training on network building and media engagement.


Our final sessions in the afternoon featured James Flynn, President of Global Peace Foundation, discussing “Balancing Competing Interest in a Polarized Society,” followed by a Town Hall forum moderated by Dr. Paul Murray. Audience interaction distinguished the day with many questions about free speech, religious freedom and other topics. Alan Inman closed the day by thanking attendees and sponsors and inspiring people to get involved at the community level.

FAV also announced a paid membership program. $25 gets members access to exclusive content on the FAV website and invitations to exclusive events like the VIP Reception before the annual symposium and delegate training. We hope you consider joining us to support the cause of reinvigorating civic dialogue and understanding around our first amendment liberty. By doing that you can truly #OwnYourLiberty!


September 11 Remembrance

September 11 Remembrance


On Patriot’s Day, it is always appropriate to take a moment and reflect on the sacrifice of those killed in the deadly attacks and those who continue to guard the frontlines of freedom, whether in the armed services, law enforcement, from the pulpit, or in our community organizations. September 11th, 2001 has been etched in the memories of mankind for sixteen years now.  Everyone of age can remember exactly what they were doing when they found out about the attacks; most joined a stunned world to watch as media broadcast the strikes repeatedly on international news.  While in class at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, I joined fellow officers to watch the footage from the first strike at 8:46 a.m. with smoke still billowing from the north tower.  Sixteen minutes later the second plane hit the south tower on live television.  35 minutes later a third plane struck the Pentagon.  At 9:59 a.m. Eastern Standard Time the southern tower collapsed after burning for 56 minutes.  The north tower came down shortly thereafter.  At 10:03 a.m. the fourth plane went down due to the heroic efforts of passengers who decided to fight back.  It did not take some Americans long to realize there was a war going on.  The instincts of the passengers of United Airlines flight 93 probably saved the lives of hundreds of people. The attacks were symbolically chosen to strike at the heart of U.S. economic power (the World Trade Center), military might (the Pentagon), and political center (many analysts predict that Flight 93’s target was either the White House or Capitol Building). The attacks were meant to inspire fear.

So sixteen years later our nation finds itself still engaged in fighting Al Qaeda. We, as citizens, stand together today on the frontiers of freedom.  Some of us are tired and bear the scars of battle, both inside and out.  But we dare not falter.  The intrepid spirit that spawned a nation of free loving people must continue to stoke the fires of passion.  Complacency is our greatest threat. Many Americans have grown tired.  They bear the psychological scars of emotional loss, unspeakable atrocities and brutal existence.  Some have no hope.  Let us not enter those ranks!

Regardless of where we find ourselves, conscientious citizens will serve to the utmost of their ability, committed to making a difference for their fellow human beings or defeating evil.  As John Stuart Mill reminds us, “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”  Although this is probably one of Mill’s most repeated quotes in military circles, I will leave you with my favorite.  “One person with belief is worth 99 of those with only an interest.”  The world is changed by small groups of committed, passionate individuals.  Don’t let opportunities pass you by.  You can make a difference.


Is civil discourse a thing of the past?

Is civil discourse a thing of the past?

Guest Author : Scott Cooper, Vets for American Ideals

In today’s increasingly polarized society, it often feels that civil discourse is a thing of the past. We don’t talk to each other; we yell at and over one another. It has only served to further divide us, and has helped opened the door to fear of the other, and to disinterest in, or downright hatred of, our fellow human beings.

In one of the more severe manifestations of that, last month white supremacists, neo-Nazis, KKK members, and segregationists marched with torches, body armor, shields and swastikas in Charlottesville. It made my stomach turn. Those were not patriots. They are repugnant and violate every principle I fought for in the Marine Corps and since I took off the uniform.

It also steeled me. Charlottesville — and the rising hatred and division in our country today — is a clarion call to action to continue the tireless work of citizenship. I searched for words that would comfort and inspire, and I was drawn to the speech Secretary of Defense James Mattis delivered at West Point back in May. He addressed the graduates with a simple theme: Hold the Line.

You Hold the Line: true to honor, living by a moral code regardless of who is watching, knowing that honor is what we give ourselves for a life of meaning…

So fight—So fight for our ideals and our sacred things; incite in others respect and love for our country and our fellow Americans; and leave this country greater and more beautiful than you inherited it, for that is the duty of every generation.

We have a responsibility, as citizens, to engage with our fellow Americans and remind them who we are. That we cherish the Constitution of the United States and the rights it guarantees. That we insist that our leaders govern within the limits of the law. That they demonstrate integrity and honor and work for the common good. That we judge women and men by what they do, not who they are, the color of their skin, their faith, the place they were born, or who they love.  

It is with these thoughts in mind that I should note how much I’m looking forward to attending the second annual First Amendment Voice Own Your Liberty National Symposium. They invigorate me – a group of citizens committed to civil engagement and solving problems facing our communities.

This, I believe, is what our founding fathers were searching for when they wrote the first amendment. That within the United States, there is room enough for all peoples. Everyone may express themselves fully, come together, or disagree with each other and their government, and we will still be one nation, brought together by a set of values and ideals, chief among them the freedom to express oneself, to assemble, and to worship.

Those who marched with torches in Charlottesville go against everything that the United States for, and the freedoms and values it represents. We owe them nothing. But, especially as military veterans who have sworn to uphold the Constitution, we do owe it to the rest of our fellow citizens to ensure they can fully exercise their freedoms. To do that, we must have those civil, and sometimes difficult, conversations. We must exercise our own voices and come together. We must reach across the aisle and find ways to work together toward the common good, and toward the more perfect realization of our nation’s most cherished ideals.