Commentary: Law Alone Can’t Protect Free Speech

Greg Lukianoff and Adam Goldstein
Wall Street Journal

Cancel culture notwithstanding, legal commentator Ken White argues that “this is a golden age for free speech in America.” For decades, he notes, the Supreme Court has protected all manner of objectionable speech, from burning the American flag to homophobic protests outside servicemen’s funerals. That’s true—but those victories rest on a broad cultural consensus. If campus norms continue to displace free speech culture, judges and lawyers will eventually start to ignore the First Amendment or, worse, chip away at it until it is meaningless. Free-speech culture gave us the First Amendment to begin with. It kept free speech alive in the tumultuous 19th century. It reinvigorated the First Amendment in the 20th century. It informs interpretations of the First Amendment today—and it will determine whether free-speech protections will survive. That’s very much in doubt, considering the state of those norms in higher education.