When Free Speech Insults Religion

Robert C. Post, David Boies Professor of Law at Yale Law School

Thu, 05/03/2007
4:30 PM, Dodds Auditorium, Robertson Hall
Event Category: 
Public Speaker
  Robert Post, David Boies Professor of Law at Yale Law School, will join us on 3 May to discuss free speech in the context of controversial Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammed. The cartoons, which were published in 2005, sparked protests and riots in many countries.

In September 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published a set of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammed. The cartoons had been submitted as part of a competition run by the newspaper to find illustrations for a children’s book, but the range of responses went far beyond the call. Initially published to little reaction, the Danish cartoons took on a life of their own when various Muslim groups in Denmark put together a dossier of both the original cartoons and other images generated later – and went to meet with Muslim leaders around the Middle East. Objections came fast and furious. Calls for a Muslim boycott against Danish products resulted in instant withdrawal of Danish goods from shelves all over the Muslim world. Riots broke out all in many countries in protest against the cartoons. By one report, 139 people died in these riots.

The "Danish cartoon" riots and reactions have provoked a new debate over free speech. Should such cartoons be banned because of the insult they generate or because of the effects that they have? Or should they be protected as free speech? Does anti-blasphemy law have a place in modern constitutional systems of human rights and free speech?

Such questions are not confined to Denmark – or to the Muslim world. All constitutional democracies, including the United States, are wrestling with these questions about the justifiable limits of free speech in a world of cultural pluralism. What should the constitutionalist say to the competition conducted in Iran (in response to the controversy over the Danish cartoons) to find cartoons mocking the Holocaust. Or to the wave of recent artists who have criticized religion in their art?

This topic – and these questions – will be engaged by our Third Annual Bernstein Lecturer, Robert C. Post. Professor Post is the David Boies Professor of Law at the Yale Law School.

Robert C. Post joined the Yale faculty in 2003. He is a well-known specialist in First Amendment theory and constitutional jurisprudence. Before coming to Yale Law, he had been teaching since 1983 at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law (Boalt Hall).

Post is the author of Constitutional Domains: Democracy, Community, Management and co-author with K. Anthony Appiah, Judith Butler, Thomas C. Grey and Reva Siegel of Prejudicial Appearances: The Logic of American Antidiscrimination Law. He edited or co-edited Civil Society and Government, Human Rights in Political Transitions: Gettysburg to Bosnia, Race and Representation: Affirmative Action, Censorship and Silencing: Practices of Cultural Regulation and Law and Order of Culture. His scholarship has appeared academic journals in the humanities as well as in dozens of important law review articles, many in recent years with his colleague Reva Siegel. In 2003, he wrote the important Harvard Law Review “foreword” to its annual review of Supreme Court jurisprudence.

Post was a law clerk to Chief Judge David L. Bazelon of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and for Justice William J. Brennan Jr. of the United States Supreme Court. Prior to joining the Boalt Hall faculty, Post was an associate in the firm Williams & Connolly in Washington, D.C., serving in its litigation section. He served as general counsel to the American Association of University Professors 1992-1994 and to Governor Wilson's Independent Panel on Redistricting in 1991.

Post has been honored with the Koret Israel Prize and with fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the American Council of Learned Societies. He received the 1998 Hughes-Gossett Award for best article in the Journal of Supreme Court History. He is councilor and librarian of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, of which he is a fellow, and is a member of the American Law Institute. He is a trustee of the National Humanities Center, on the executive committee of the American Council of Learned Societies, and on the editorial board of Representations.

Post earned his B.A. summa cum laude from Harvard University, a J.D. from Yale Law School where he served as note editor of the Yale Law Journal, and a Ph.D. in the History of American Civilization from Harvard.