'The Fight for Free Speech' (NYU Press) by author and free speech legal expert Ian Rosenberg.
'The Fight for Free Speech' (NYU Press) by author and free speech legal expert Ian Rosenberg.

In his new book ‘The Fight for Free Speech,’ author, professor, and ABC News legal counsel Ian Rosenberg cites 10 contemporary cases that highlight how fragile that freedom is.

In his newly published book, The Fight for Free Speech: Ten Cases that Define Our First Amendment Freedoms, attorney and TV legal analyst Ira Rosenberg examines First Amendment law through the lens of contemporary free speech issues, including nazis marching in Charlottesville, Va., and student walkouts for gun safety.

“If the last four years have shown us anything, it’s that our democracy is fragile,” Rosenberg said. “We do need to worry about government interference. If we don’t understand our rights, they will be taken away, and it will be eroded.

“If the press can’t publish vital information, be it election coverage or COVID-19 related data, democracy will stumble, he added. 

As legal counsel for ABC News, Rosenberg said the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School inspired him to write the book. At the time, he and his family discussed news coverage about student survivors turned activists. His children started asking questions about what consequences they might face if they left school during the day to join the National School Walkout protests.

Aside from his job at ABC, 47-year-old Rosenberg also teaches media law at New York’s Brooklyn College.

“There are two primary differences between the American free speech approach and the European, or international, model,” Rosenberg said. “The first difference is the First Amendment was written and interpreted to prevent government interference with speech. That’s very different from Europe.

“The second major difference is that — even though many Americans get confused by this — the First Amendment protects hate speech. We cannot restrict speakers’ speech because we hate the message they espouse. That is why nazis marching in Charlottesville are allowed. That is why the Westboro Baptist Church can protest outside military funerals.

“As a Jewish person, this was certainly the most difficult free speech issue to embrace,” he said. “Hearing nazis in Charlottesville say, ‘Jews will not replace us’ was certainly the most frightening reemergence of nazi speech in my adult lifetime. But, even when we disagree with everything a person or group says, even when we know it to be false and hateful, we don’t want government intrusion.

“However, I do think that for too long free speech advocates have glossed over the harm that hateful language can inflict,” Rosenberg added. “In my book, I talk about critical race theorists and equity theorists who question how speech by the nazis has enriched Jews, or how speech by the Klan has enriched Blacks. These are very important points to raise. 

“Still, I strongly believe the government should not be the arbiter of what is true or hateful.” 

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