Offensive speech and unwilling listeners

Patrick Wiseman pwiseman at
Thu Jun 2 06:56:24 PDT 2005

On Wed, 1 Jun 2005 at 12:37pm, Frank Cross wrote:

:The materials do seem like relevant facts that law students should come to
:grips with.  But time and place and context are also relevant facts.  I'm
:not sure that viewing obscenity in class is the same as viewing it in
:private.  So showing obscene materials in class doesn't directly illuminate
:the question of whether it should be regulated for private consumption.

I asked my First Amendment students last night whether they felt it was
necessary to expose them to seditious speech, fighting words, obscenity,
etc., rather than just talk about them in the abstract.  (I also provided
them with the link to the 1st Amendment Online site, which has some
primary materials.)  One student made what I thought was a nice
observation, that first amendment cases are (as I've been telling them)
incredibly context-sensitive, so that, say, hearing Carlin's monologue
_out of context_ is, in fact, to abstract it.  So, while it might be
_interesting_ to provide them with the primary materials, and sometimes
pedagogically useful, I've concluded that it's by no means necessary, and,
when the potential for real offense exceeds the pedagogical value,
downright inappropriate to present them in class.

This does not, of course, preclude providing links to relevant primary
materials, and I will probably do so, with suitable warnings.

Patrick Wiseman
Professor of Law
GSU College of Law

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