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The First Amendment and You: What Everyone Should Know

Develop a deeper understanding of the First Amendment of the Constitution, and discover why it may not mean what you think it means.
The First Amendment and You: What Everyone Should Know is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 28.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Flagship Course This is a flagship course within The Great Courses (TGC) repertoire. It is a look into how legal protections of the First Amendment to the American Constitution have developed. I am guessing that it aims at the level of a first-year law school student, i.e., one who is interested in how the law works but one who does not yet have a lot of training. The course is divided into topics such as Freedom of the Press, Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Association, etc. Within each topic, Dr. Finn takes a case study approach. He typically raises a disputable question and he explains how the Supreme Court answered the question, often including arguments in dissent. Dr. Finn is very even-handed in this course. He treats all parties with equal respect although he does sneak in some personal opinions from time to time. His approach and comments are consistently insightful but never shallow. The course guide is average by TGC standards. It averages about 8 pages per lecture, which is slightly above average for a TGC course guide. It is written in bullet format, but each bullet is a full paragraph rather than a sentence or a phrase so it is easy to follow. There is a bibliography but it lacks a summary list of important Supreme Court cases, which would have been a useful reference. I used the audio streaming version of the course, which is the only version available as of 2024. There was no need for graphics during the lectures. The course was published in 2012.
Date published: 2024-01-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from eyeopener a must if you want to get a solid understanding of what is & isn't included in our rights under the first amendment
Date published: 2023-04-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Very Hot Topic This 2012 course has recently come sharply into focus. Example: Is intimidation by a crowd carrying bludgeons, protesting on, and damaging private property including that of Supreme Court Justices “free speech”? Finn, whose research focuses on “constitutional theory, comparative constitutional law and the First Amendment", has some surprising answers. The First Amendment "safety-valve" allows the oppressed to be heard and checks the government's "unique…and dangerous…power to do harm." However, L1 immediately cautions: "we do not have the freedom to say whatever we want, wherever we want, whenever we want…" This applies to government officials…to violate or deny others the right to speak or practice their religion…is to deny…their very humanity." PLACE: The 1st Amendment (L7) "offers NO PROTECTION AT ALL FOR SPEECH ON THE PRIVATE PROPERTY of another person, somewhat more in a limited public forum and the highest protection in a…public forum." POLITICAL SPEECH is given a very high degree of protection. In the O'Brien case (L3) symbolic speech (draft card burning) was NOT allowed because otherwise "how long would it be before burglars claim their thefts were…protest against inequalities?" ACTIVISTS' CONDUCT TRIGGERS THE STATES' AUTHORITY EVEN IF THERE IS AN INCIDENTAL EFFECT UPON SPEECH. HATE SPEECH: Laws limiting hate speech "have a very high burden to pass." RAV v City of St. Paul specifically struck down HATE SPEECH LAW that was NOT NEUTRAL. Observation: In today's politics, accusations of "hate speech" are quite one-sided and further rulings will be of interest. THE PRESS: The Red Lion v FCC "Fairness" rule requiring the media to provide a balanced presentation of controversial subjects survived the Court but was torpedoed by a Federal Agency (the FCC) with its contorted logic that the "First Amendment was adopted to protect the people" from the government, not from journalists. ASSOCIATION: There is a difference between EXPRESSIVE ASSOCIATION (protected) with an element of political expression and INTIMATE ASSOCIATION (not protected) such as cultural, social or church groups. Political parties receive full protection. The important lesson here is that before the Court, any association without a political arm has no 1st Amendment protections. MASS MEDIA'S POWER: L12 bemoans that the 1st Amendment doesn't protect us from concentrations of private power or their ability to constrain free expression: "large media monopolies may actually reduce…" diversity of opinion and viewpoint. Finn points out that since Internet providers are private corporations, they aren't responsible to the First Amendment. CONCLUSION: There is so much in this short course that my original review was over three pages long. Finn has given us tools to evaluate political leadership's ability to follow the Constitution. Regarding the effects of political leadership on the judicial system, L18 of the Great Course "Unexpected Economics" by Taylor cautions: "universal opinion…was often the result of 2 or 3 people who analyzed (a) subject". Use Finn's teaching to demand Constitutionally based law over minority activist whim.
Date published: 2022-07-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Informative and well done A lot in the past year or so on first amendment rights. Wanted to make sure I understood the topic and had an informed opinion.
Date published: 2021-08-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Correct title The title of the course: “The First Amendment and You: What Everyone Should Know” is correct. EVERYONE should listen to this course. It is very. Important to know the facts, especially in this day and age.
Date published: 2019-06-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Clear information with excellent clarification This was a wonderful course which was extremely well taught.
Date published: 2019-05-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from All about the 1st Amendment This course has a strong content with various 1st Amendment issues. I would recommend this course if your interest is a progressive template to 1st Amendment jargon. Professor Finn's expertise is the liberal view point is astounding. I would prefer a balanced and more well rounded discussion of the 1st Amendment.
Date published: 2019-05-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well Presented The lectures were well thought out. Each focused on a specific aspect of the 1st Amendment and then clearly explained the current situation, based on the history of the court cases. Since much is still in flux, related to the issue of religion, it was a good insight into how other aspects have been treated in court and the current stance of the court on hearing cases.
Date published: 2019-04-07
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A mere 45 words, the First Amendment to the Constitution stands as a pillar of our democracy and has had an incalculable influence on the development of human freedom in the United States and the Western world. By defining the relationship between the people and the state and placing checks on governmental power to silence its populace, its protections have important ramifications for every American. The First Amendment and You: What Everyone Should Know is a practical guide to understanding the protections and limitations implied by this fundamental constitutional provision. This 12-lecture course will help you fully grasp why we have a First Amendment, what and whom it protects, and why it matters to you personally.


John E. Finn


Wesleyan University

John E. Finn is Professor of Government Emeritus at Wesleyan University, where he taught for thirty years. Finn received a Ph.D. in political science from Princeton University, a J.D. from Georgetown University, a B.A. in political science from Nasson College, and a degree in culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute. His scholarly research and teaching focuses on constitutional theory, comparative constitutional law, the first amendment, and the legal regulation of terrorism and political violence. Professor Finn is an internationally recognized expert on constitutional law and political violence. His public lectures include testimony in front of the House Judiciary Committee, as well as lectures in Chile, Bolivia, Spain, Italy, Canada, England, and France.

Finn is the author of four highly regarded and influential books on constitutional law: Fracturing the Founding: How the Alt-Right Corrupts the Constitution (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019), Peopling the Constitution (Kansas, 2014), American Constitutional Law: Essays, Cases, and Comparative Notes 4th ed. (coauthor, West Academic Publishing, 2018), and Constitutions in Crisis: Political Violence and the Rule of Law (Oxford, 1991), and of numerous scholarly articles in professional journals.

Finn’s research and scholarly writing also extends to the study of food, recipes, and politics. He has published a book on the history, philosophy, and meaning of omelets, including recipes, The Perfect Omelet (Countryman, 2017), and several essays and articles, including “How Does a Recipe Mean,” in Table Matters: A Journal of Food, Drink, and Manners (2016), an entry on “Measurements,” in The Oxford Companion to Sweets, ed. Darra Goldstein (2015), an essay on Julia Child in Gastronomica (2007), and articles on “The Perfect Recipe,” (2011) and “The Kitchen Voice as Confessional,” (2004) in Food, Culture & Society.

The First Amendment and You: What Everyone Should Know


A Citizen’s Guide to the First Amendment

01: A Citizen’s Guide to the First Amendment

Why do we have a First Amendment? Whom does the First Amendment protect? As Professor Finn outlines the course, you’ll learn theories on why the First Amendment exists, become familiar with the protections provided, and confront the most common misperceptions Americans have regarding freedom of speech, rights of the press, and more.

47 min
The First Amendment and Political Speech

02: The First Amendment and Political Speech

On what basis does the court place a higher value on political speech? How do we identify what qualifies as political speech? Investigate the categorical approach to the First Amendment and learn why the state may prohibit speech. Study New York Times Co. v. Sullivan as you contemplate whether speech that defames or includes lies should be protected.

43 min
The First Amendment and Symbolic Speech

03: The First Amendment and Symbolic Speech

When is conduct considered speech? Should speech protections be extended to conduct at all? Explore the concept of symbolic speech by considering the forms speech can take and examining the classic Supreme Court cases of U.S. v. O’Brien, Spence v. Washington, and Tinker v. Des Moines.

43 min
The First Amendment and Corporate Speech

04: The First Amendment and Corporate Speech

Do corporations have speech rights? Are advertisements protected? Look at decisions that have contributed to defining commercial speech and the measure of protection it deserves. Delve into cases like Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which tested the constitutionality of the McCain-Feingold Act, and others concerning restrictions on corporations, unions, and various groups when commenting on public affairs.

44 min
The First Amendment and Obscenity

05: The First Amendment and Obscenity

Using the categorical approach, the court says some speech falls outside the orbit of the First Amendment and may be censored. How do we define what’s offensive? In this lecture, you’ll see how obscenity and pornography—although plainly speech or expression—are entitled to little or no protection, and probe how the court justifies this exclusion.

44 min
The First Amendment and Hate Speech

06: The First Amendment and Hate Speech

Is there a difference between hateful speech and speech that’s simply offensive? Study Chaplinksy v. New Hampshire, Cohen v. California, Snyder v. Phelps, and other significant cases as you investigate the fighting words doctrine and the history of hate speech laws.

44 min
Does It Matter Where You Speak?

07: Does It Matter Where You Speak?

Explore to what extent citizens can speak freely in various private and public locations. Examine the rationale behind the public forum doctrine and differentiate between rules that govern speech in public forums, limited public forums, and nonpublic forums.

46 min
Freedom of the Press

08: Freedom of the Press

Is the press clause of the First Amendment redundant? Discover why the founders made this distinction and the difficulty of defining who and what constitute “the press.” Consider whether journalists have a special privilege to withhold their sources, if courtroom proceedings should be televised, and claims of citizens’ right of access to the media.

44 min
Freedom of Association

09: Freedom of Association

The First Amendment identifies rights to assemble and petition the government, but does not protect association specifically. Examine cases that establish protection for association and highlight the tension between our commitments to associational freedom and equality. Learn when and why the state may limit our freedom to associate.

44 min
The Establishment Clause

10: The Establishment Clause

Learn why freedom of religion is so crucial to a constitutional democracy and the issues that have given rise to an incredibly complex—and frequently evolving—series of doctrinal rules and tests, including the important Lemon Test.

45 min
The Free Exercise Clause

11: The Free Exercise Clause

When and why can the state regulate or prohibit the practice of religion? Does religious freedom mean you can opt out of secular laws that burden your faith? Investigate fascinating cases that bear directly on the practical—often controversial— implications of the words “Congress shall make no law … prohibiting the free exercise” of religion.

44 min
The Future of the First Amendment

12: The Future of the First Amendment

Do legal precedents apply to the Internet or are new parameters needed? Consider the debate over net neutrality and explore how existing First Amendment rules apply in the context of new technologies such as social media, Skype, and other online content; video games; and cell-phone cameras.

44 min