FREE SPEECH — "Shouting Fire: Stories from the Edge of Free Speech" airs tonight and later again this week on HBO as a reminder that freedom of speech as a constitutional bulwark is re-won in every generation by those whom most of us would prefer to shut up.
As described by HBO, the 74-minute documentary
"Shouting Fire: Stories from the Edge of Free Speech" examines the case of Ward Churchill, a tenured professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado, who was fired after writing that U.S. foreign policy abuses were a partial cause of the 9/11 attacks. Dismissed for research misconduct, Churchill later won a lawsuit against the university for unlawful termination of employment.
Liz Garbus also examines the story of Yemeni-American Debbie Almontaser, a veteran of the New York City public school system and founding principal of Khalil Gibran International Academy, the city's first dual-language Arabic-English public school. Almontaser claims she was forced to resign from her job in 2007 after she set off a firestorm by citing the literal definition of the word "Intifada" in an interview with the New York Post. After she left, the Academy opened with a temporary principal who did not speak Arabic. Alleging a witch hunt, Almontaser has filed a lawsuit claiming her First Amendment rights were violated.
The documentary also considers the case of Chase Harper, who was suspended from Poway High School in San Diego for wearing a T-shirt that read "Homosexuality Is Shameful" during a gay and lesbian awareness event. Advocates for Poway High argue that they have the right to censor speech that would disrupt the educational experience of other students.
Finally, Garbus looks at Ruth Benn and Ed Hedemann, who were arrested and detained along with other protesters during a nonviolent demonstration at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City. In the process of their defense, lawyers unearthed evidence that their organization and other peaceful groups had been subject to extensive surveillance by the NYC Police Dept.