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After a divisive election and controversial campus protests, constitutional law experts and college students alike have debated the state of free speech in the United States. On Tuesday, experts in the field came to Penn Law School to contribute to campus dialogue on this issue. 

Penn Law organizations the Federalist Society and the American Constitution Society partnered with the Ayn Rand Institute to address these ideas by hosting a panel discussion titled “Is Free Speech Under Attack?”

Steve Simpson, director of legal studies at the Ayn Rand Institute, moderated the discussion between Danish journalist and author Flemming Rose and former President of the American Civil Liberties Union Nadine Strossen.

Throughout the dialogue, Rose and Strossen offered similar answers to questions regarding hate speech, tolerance, government surveillance and media literacy. Both speakers emphasized the absolute need to defend free speech, and both objected to the suppression of controversial ideas. 

Federalist Society President Brent Hanson said that the ultimate goal of the event was to provide curious attendees with speakers who could express challenging perspectives and thoughtful reflections on the matter.

“I think having Flemming Rose — who is somewhat controversial — would draw a pretty good sized crowd, and having Nadine Strossen would really provide balance to the panel, as she is a very respected academic," he said. "Finally, Steve Simpson is an expert litigator in the area of First Amendment law. It really seemed like a perfect event for the Federalist Society to spearhead.” 

Rose argued that the only valid limitations on free speech are restrictions on speech that incites violence. Other than that form, he said all speech should be tolerated.

Strossen said that even offensive speech should not be prohibited.

“Passing laws against hate speech is a diversion from meaningful steps for social movements promoting equality,” Strossen said. 

The speakers referenced Supreme Court cases, censorship laws in Europe and even “alternative facts” when analyzing the fate of free speech. Rose said that rapid change in technology and immigration “has changed the context for this debate.” 

The speakers prompted attendees to reflect on how free speech in all realms — in the media, on the internet and on campus — can be protected in the future. 

“In terms of what I took out of it, I have my own opinions on free speech that weren’t as permissive as the panelists," College senior Alex Palmer said. "I’m still meditating on all of it.”

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