2020-2021                  Andrea Mitchell Center Faculty Workshop Series                  2020-2021

Free speech has re-emerged in recent years as a significant political rallying cry, as political polarization and shifting cultural sensitivities have worked  to intensify the struggles in many democratic countries over the boundaries of acceptable speech.  These struggles are far from new, but in the contemporary context emerging media platforms have presented new challenges to the regulation and protection of open expression. In this environment, businesses and civil-society organizations throughout the world contend with issues of political speech and related boycotts, while in the U.S., social and legal developments require us to rethink our interpretations and implementation of the First Amendment. In its 2020-2021 theme year, FREE SPEECH BATTLES, The Andrea Mitchell Center examines both the contentious history of free expression and the ongoing developments that have made it once again a central issue in democratic societies.



JAIME SETTLE College of William and Mary

Thu. December 10, 5:00-6:30 pm / Zoom links emailed to attendees
Co-sponsored by the
SNF Paideia Program.

WHEN WE CONSIDER THE POTENTIAL THREATS POSED by social media to our democracy, we tend to focus on bad actors and their malicious intent. From this standpoint, the task of protecting democracy while preserving legitimate speech is a matter of targeting the trolls and bots that distort online discourse. JAIME SETTLE, author of Frenemies: How Social Media Polarizes America, suggests that the problem goes deeper. It may be that the forms of expression found on social media undermine, in and of themselves, the mutual tolerance required by a functioning democracy – that we become our own worst enemies. In the face of this challenge, Settle offers a framework to reduce polarization while upholding free speech rights.


On the latest episode of the Mitchell Center Podcast, former white nationalist DEREK BLACK describes what compelled him to renounce the hateful ideology of his family; while in a past episode, former ACLU president NADINE STROSSEN makes the case against censoring hate speech. Listen to all episodes at mitchellcenter.libsyn.com.


Genevieve Lakier University of Chicago Law School

Boycotts, the BDS Movement,
and the First Amendment

Mark Thompson Former CEO, New York Times

Keep Calm and Carry On

Joan Wallach Scott Institute for Advanced Study

The Right Has Weaponized
Free Speech

Geoffrey R. Stone University of Chicago

Final Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression


Brian Berkey / Genevieve Lakier / Amanda Shanor

Derek Black

Mark Thompson


FREE SPEECH BATTLES is a year-long program of events organized at the Andrea Mitchell Center by the FREE SPEECH BATTLES Planning Committee: Sigal Ben Porath, Chair (GSE); Joe Lowry (Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations); Sophia Rosenfeld (History); Amy Sepinwall (Wharton); Tukufu Zuberi (Sociology); Jeffrey Green, Mitchell Center Director (Political Science); and Matthew Roth, Mitchell Center Assistant Director.

​​THE ANDREA MITCHELL CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF DEMOCRACY at the University of Pennyslvania aims not just to promote, but to understand, democracy. Global in its outlook, multifaceted in its purposes, the Mitchell Center seeks to contribute to the ongoing quest for democratic values, ideas, and institutions throughout the world. In addition to hosting speakers from the fields of academia, journalism, politics, and public policy, the Mitchell Center supports undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral research.  It continues the legacy of the Penn Program for Democracy, Citizenship, and Constitutionalism, which fostered interdisciplinary scholarship from 2007 to 2017.

Sigal Ben-Porath

Penn Graduate School of Education, Annenberg School for Communication, Annenberg Public Policy Institute, Center for Media@Risk,
SNF Paideia Program
, and The Jack Miller Center