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caption: Author Jacob Mchangama's 'Free Speech'
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Author Jacob Mchangama's 'Free Speech'
Credit: Courtesy of Basic Books

The highs and lows of a prized and vulnerable freedom

Freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental element of vibrant democracies around the globe, but those freedoms are increasingly threatened. As people and societies adjust to new forms of communication, far beyond traditional civic spaces, norms concerning free speech rights are evolving. It’s a good time to better understand our modern reality concerning speech rights and their historical underpinnings.


Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. –The First Amendment

Fortunately, author Jacob Mchangama has immersed himself in this topic for years. His new book is Free Speech: A Global History from Socrates to Social Media. In it, he guides us through the history of free speech in various societies, presenting the views of advocates and opponents. He points to gains linked to free speech rights, and what we stand to lose as those rights are restricted.

Judging from surviving law codes and writings, the great ancient civilizations protected the power and authority of their rulers from the speech of their subjects, not the other way around. -Jacob Mchangama in 'Free Speech'

It is famously a crime to falsely cry fire in a crowded theatre. Where else should we draw the legal line, especially in an age of digital disinformation and misinformation? This talk addresses whether progressive change is more likely to come about from censuring or allowing free speech, and if each of us has a responsibility to counter hate speech with our privileged free speech.

The best history of free speech ever written and the best defense of free speech ever made. – P.J. O´Rourke on 'Free Speech'

Jacob Mchangama is a lawyer, a human rights advocate, the founder and executive director of Justitia, a Danish think tank, and the host of the podcast Clear and Present Danger: A History of Free Speech. He is interviewed here by South Seattle Emerald reporter Carolyn Bick.

Town Hall Seattle presented this event on February 16, 2022, as part of their Civics series.

Please note: This recording contains one unedited word of an adult nature.