Town and Village

Meg Mott presents 'Must Free Speech Endure Hate Speech?' at Putney Library

PUTNEY — Meg Mott, former Marlboro College professor will lead a discussion entitled "Must Free Speech Endure Hate Speech?" at Putney Public Library, 55 Main St., on Oct. 25, at 6:30 p.m.

Everyone loves free speech in theory, she says, but trouble often comes when someone else's speech disturbs social norms.

According to organizers, "Why should Nazis be given permission to march through a predominantly Jewish neighborhood? Why should anti-gay zealots be allowed to protest military funerals? The short answer to these actual Supreme Court cases is that the First Amendment protects the right to express outrageous things in public. It even protects a person's ability to say harmful things."

Mott says the debate over free speech is itself a good thing. "We should all be concerned about the effects speech has on the social fabric, and we should all be concerned about giving the state the power to punish people for things they say," she said.

The First Amendment, she explains, is the principle guardrail in our constitutional democracy. "Once we start fearing our enemies more than we love our freedoms, the temptation to silence them with the law can be overpowering. Luckily, the First Amendment prevents us from ceding to our worser angels. We have to work things out and stop putting our enemies in jail."

The talk's title is designed to be an open question, says Mott. Some participants may believe that the better answer to that question is no. Others will rally behind the principle of free speech. "What matters," says Mott, "is that we understand the good arguments on both sides of this question. Without that hard-won intelligence, freedom loses all meaning."

The Putney library is where Mott began her career as a self-proclaimed Constitution Wrangler, when Librarian Emily Zervas and Trustee Janice Baldwin were looking for a series of talks that would bring a divided community together after the 2016 election. That request spawned the award-winning "Debating Our Rights" series, in which contentious issues are unpacked toward greater understanding.

Mott's talk is sponsored by the Vermont Humanities Council and admission is free of charge.

This Town and Village item was submitted to The Commons.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates