Dissent, Injustice, and the Meanings of America

Princeton University Press
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Americans should not just tolerate dissent. They should encourage it. In this provocative and wide-ranging book, Steven Shiffrin makes this case by arguing that dissent should be promoted because it lies at the heart of a core American value: free speech. He contends, however, that the country's major institutions--including the Supreme Court and the mass media--wrongly limit dissent. And he reflects on how society and the law should change to encourage nonconformity.

Shiffrin is one of the country's leading first-amendment theorists. He advances his dissent-based theory of free speech with careful reference to its implications for such controversial topics of constitutional debate as flag burning, cigarette advertising, racist speech, and subsidizing the arts. He shows that a dissent-based approach would offer strong protection for free speech--he defends flag burning as a legitimate form of protest, for example--but argues that it would still allow for certain limitations on activities such as hate speech and commercial speech. Shiffrin adds that a dissent-based approach reveals weaknesses in the approaches to free speech taken by postmodernism, Republicanism, deliberative democratic theory, outsider jurisprudence, and liberal theory.

Throughout the book, Shiffrin emphasizes the social functions of dissent: its role in combating injustice and its place in cultural struggles over the meanings of America. He argues, for example, that if we took a dissent-based approach to free speech seriously, we would no longer accept the unjust fact that public debate is dominated by the voices of the powerful and the wealthy. To ensure that more voices are heard, he argues, the country should take such steps as making defamation laws more hospitable to criticism of powerful people, loosening the grip of commercial interests on the media, and ensuring that young people are taught the importance of challenging injustice.

Powerfully and clearly argued, Shiffrin's book is a major contribution to debate about one of the most important subjects in American public life.

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About the author

Steven H. Shiffrin is Professor of Law at Cornell University. He is the author of The First Amendment, Democracy, and Romance (paperback available from Princeton) and the coauthor of Constitutional Law: Cases-Comments-Questions and The First Amendment: Cases-Comments-Questions.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Jul 10, 2000
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Pages
220
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ISBN
9781400822966
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Language
English
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Genres
Law / Constitutional
Law / Jurisprudence
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Read Aloud
Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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In The Religious Left and Church-State Relations, noted constitutional law scholar Steven Shiffrin argues that the religious left, not the secular left, is best equipped to lead the battle against the religious right on questions of church and state in America today. Explaining that the chosen rhetoric of secular liberals is poorly equipped to argue against religious conservatives, Shiffrin shows that all progressives, religious and secular, must appeal to broader values promoting religious liberty. He demonstrates that the separation of church and state serves to protect religions from political manipulation while tight connections between church and state compromise the integrity of religious institutions.

Shiffrin discusses the pluralistic foundations of the religion clauses in the First Amendment and asserts that the clauses cannot be confined to the protection of liberty, equality, or equal liberty. He explores the constitutional framework of religious liberalism, applying it to controversial examples, including the Pledge of Allegiance, the government's use of religious symbols, the teaching of evolution in public schools, and school vouchers. Shiffrin examines how the approaches of secular liberalism toward church-state relations have been misguided philosophically and politically, and he illustrates why theological arguments hold an important democratic position--not in courtrooms or halls of government, but in the public dialogue. The book contends that the great issue of American religious politics is not whether religions should be supported at all, but how religions can best be strengthened and preserved.

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