Free Speech Issues

SRRT IRTF Free Speech Issues
Photo source: National Park Service

Within SRRT, the International Responsibilities Task Force has taken the lead in addressing a number of free speech concerns, including the growing wave of legislation targeting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights, the issue of hate speech in libraries, restrictions on freedom of the press, and the prosecution of whistleblowers.

Discussion Group: “Hate Speech and Libraries”

Resources on Free Speech Issues:

Discussion Group: “Hate Speech and Libraries”
June 22, 2019

In 2018 a controversy over the challenge of hate speech erupted within ALA. Positions adopted by the Office of Intellectual Freedom and Council emphasized that libraries must respect First Amendment protections even of hate speech. Critics argued that the presence of hate speech and hate groups in libraries injures users from vulnerable communities and undermines the equity, diversity, and inclusion that are central to intellectual freedom. In response to objections, Council subsequently rescinded its policy revision and adopted a new one. This discussion group presented differing views on how to address hate speech and invited participation in this important debate. The opening speakers were Sofia Leung, Teaching & Learning Program Manager at MIT Libraries, Liaison Librarian to the department of Comparative Media Studies at MIT, and member of the We Here network for librarians of color; and Tom Twiss, Librarian Emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh, co-coordinator of the Social Responsibilities Round Table’s International Responsibilities Task Force, and member of SRRT’s Action Council.

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Resources on Free Speech Issues

Titles suggested by Tom Twiss

Hate Speech vs. Free Speech

Coliver, Sandra, ed. “Hate Speech Laws: Do They work?” in Striking a Balance: Hate Speech, Freedom of Expression and Non-Discrimination. London: Article 19 International Centre against Censorship/Human Rights Centre, University of Essex, 1992, pp. 363–74.

“The flagrant abuse of laws which restrict hate speech by the authorities at precisely those times when an even-handed approach to conflict is crucial provides the most troubling indictment of such laws.” [Sandra Coliver]

Striking a Balance Cover

Dols, Monique. “Free Speech and Fighting the Right on Campus,” International Socialist Review, Issue #106, Fall 2017.

Draper, Hal. “Free Speech and Political Struggle,” Independent Socialist, No. 4, April 1968, pp. 12-16.

Farber, Samuel. “A Socialist Approach to Free Speech,” Jacobin, Feb 27, 2017.

Farber, Samuel. “Socialists and Free Speech Revisited,” New Politics, Sept. 27, 2021.

Friedersdorf, Connor, “The Most Shortsighted Attack on Free Speech in Modern U.S. History,” The Atlantic, Aug. 23, 2017.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., “War of Words: Critical Race Theory and the First Amendment,” in Speaking of Race, Speaking of Sex: Hate Speech, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., et al., with an introduction by Ira Glasser. New York: New York University, 1994, pp. 17-57.

“I cannot put it better than Charles Lawrence himself, who writes, ‘I fear that by framing the debate as . . . one in which the liberty of free speech is in conflict with the elimination of racism—we have advanced the cause of racial oppression and placed the bigot in the moral high ground, fanning the rising flames of racism.’ Though he does not intend it as such, I can only read this as a rebuke to the hate-speech [legislation] movement itself.” [Henry Louis Gates, Jr.]

Speaking of Race, Speaking of Sex Cover

Gibbons, Chip. “Free Speech Is a Left-Wing Value,” Jacobin, Jan. 9, 2019.

Greenwald, Glenn. “In Europe, Hate Speech Laws Are Often Used to Suppress and Punish Left-Wing Viewpoints.” The Intercept, August 29, 2017.

Greenwald, Glenn and Ira Glasser. “Mighty Ira: Ira Glasser, Free Speech and the ACLU - System Update with Glenn Greenwald” YouTube video, Oct. 20, 2020.

“Glenn is joined by Ira Glasser, former executive director of the ACLU. . . . Glenn and Ira discuss why civil libertarians must defend the rights of those they despise, the apparent abandonment of free speech commitments by some of the liberal left, and the role of the ACLU in US politics – traditionally and now.” [From program description]

Mighty Ira Cover

Hellinger, Dan. “A Short History of Repressed Speech,” St. Louis Journalism Review, March 2002. [Link is to a free excerpt from Questia.]

Macleod, Alan. “Facebook also Censoring the Left Isn’t Just a Worry—It’s a Reality,” Truthdig, Aug. 23, 2018.

Mankoff, Bob and Fleming Rose. “Copenhagen, Speech, and Violence,” The New Yorker, Feb. 14, 2015.

Miller, Hayey. “ACLU Warns Against ‘Worrisome’ Alex Jones Bans,” Huffpost, Aug. 21, 2018.

Shiells, Timothy C. African Americans and the First Amendment: The Case for Liberty and Equality (SUNY series in African American Studies).

[This] is the first book to explore in detail the relationship between African Americans and our “first freedoms,” especially freedom of speech. Timothy C. Shiell utilizes an interdisciplinary approach to demonstrate that a strong commitment to civil liberty and to racial equality are mutually supportive, .... This crucial connection is evidenced throughout US history, from the days of colonial and antebellum slavery to Jim Crow .... [From publisher’s description.]

African Americans and the First Amendment: The Case for Liberty and Equality Cover
Stanley, Jay. “Civil Rights Movement Is a Reminder that Free Speech Is There to Protect the Weak,” ACLU, May 26, 2017.

Strossen, Nadine. Hate: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.

"Citing evidence from many countries, this book shows that "hate speech" laws are at best ineffective and at worst counterproductive. Therefore, prominent social justice advocates worldwide maintain that the best way to resist hate and promote equality is not censorship, but rather, vigorous "counterspeech" and activism. [From publisher’s description.]

Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech Cover

Tepker, Rick, “Hate Speech,” The Oklahoma Bar Journal, May 20, 2017.

Twiss, Tom. “Hate Speech in Libraries: How and How Not to Fight It,” Journal of Intellectual Freedom & Privacy, Vol. 4, No. 3, Fall 2019.

Walker, Samuel. Hate Speech: The History of an American Controversy, Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1994.

“Samuel Walker examines the issue, from the conflicts over the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s and American Nazi groups in the 1930s, to the famous Skokie episode in 1977-78, and the campus culture wars of the 1990s. The author argues that the civil rights movement played a central role in developing this country's strong free speech tradition.” [From publisher’s description]

Hate Speech Cover
Williams, Nikki. “We Need Free Speech to Fight the Right,” Socialist Worker, June 14, 2017.
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Anti-BDS Legislation

Anti-BDS Legislation: The Library Connection

This page includes: (1) policies of the American Library Association (ALA) that are relevant to federal, state, and local anti-BDS legislation, and (2) links to library-related invitations to bid, requests for proposals, and contracts that contain state-mandated prohibitions on boycotts of Israel.

Articles and reports

Bot, Michiel, “The Right to Boycott: BDS, Law, and Politics in a Global Context,” Transnational Legal Theory, Vol. 10, issue 3-4, 2019.

Center for Constitutional Rights and Palestine Legal, The Palestinian Exception to Free Speech: A Movement Under Attack in the US, Sept. 30, 2015.

This report documents for the first time the widespread and growing suppression of Palestinian human rights advocacy in the United States.

The Palestine Exception to Free Speech

Cole, Juan. “Israel’s Netanyahu Boasts of Having Destroyed US 1st Amendment and Free Speech,” Informed Comment, Feb. 14, 2020.

Friedersdorf, Conor. “The Constitutional Right to Boycott,” The Atlantic, Feb. 2, 2018.

Greenwald, Glenn and Andrew Fishman. “Greatest Threat to Free Speech in the West: Criminalizing Activism Against Israeli Occupation,” The Intercept, Feb. 16, 2016.

Greenwald, Glenn and Ryan Grim. “U.S. Lawmakers Seek to Criminally Outlaw Support for Boycott Campaign Against Israel,” The Intercept, July 19, 2017.

Harvard Law Review, “Wielding Antidiscrimination Law to Suppress the Movement for Palestinian Rights,” Feb. 10, 2020.

Lipton, Rob. “MuzzleWatch: Breaking Down the Legal Attack Against the BDS Movement,” Mondoweiss, March 24, 2020.

PEN America, Chasm in the Classroom: Campus Free Speech in a Divided America, 2019.

Coming in the wake of President Donald Trump’s March 24, 2019 Executive Order on campus speech, [this report] debunks the Administration’s constricted account of free speech threats emanating only from the left, and details an array of infringements on speech, both official and informal. [From description by PEN America]

Chasm in the Classroom cover

Pilkington, Ed. “Revealed: Rightwing Push to Suppress Criticism of Israel on US Campuses,” The Guardian, Oct. 17, 2019.

Thrall, Nathan. “BDS: How a Controversial Non-violent Movement Has Transformed the Israeli-Palestinian Debate,” The Guardian, Aug. 14, 2018.

Thrall, Nathan. “How the Battle over Israel and Anti-Semitism is Fracturing American Politics,” New York Times Magazine, March 28, 2019.

Whyte, Liz Essley. “One Way to Silence Israel Boycotts? Get Lawmakers to Pass anti-BDS Bills,” USA Today, May 1, 2019.


Barghouti, Omar. Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2011.

THIRTY YEARS ago, an international movement utilizing boycott, divestment, and sanction (BDS) tactics rose in solidarity with those suffering under the brutal apartheid regime of South Africa . . . . Now, as awareness of the apartheid nature of the State of Israel continues to grow, Omar Barghouti, founding member of the Palestinian Civil Society Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, presents a renewed call to action. Aimed at forcing the State of Israel to uphold international law and universal human rights for the Palestinian people, here is a manifesto for change. [From publisher’s description]

Boycott Divestment Sanctions cover

Dawson, Ashley and Bill V. Mullen, eds. Against Apartheid: The Case for Boycotting Israeli Universities. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2015.

Focusing on the complicity of Israeli universities in maintaining the occupation of Palestine, and on the repression of academic and political freedom for Palestinians, Against Apartheid powerfully explains why scholars and students throughout the world should refuse to do business with Israeli institutions. This rich collection of essays is a handbook for scholars and activists. [From publisher’s description]

Against Apartheid cover

Editorials and statements

ALA Social Responsibilities Round Table Action Council. Response to the Report of the Resolution Review Task Force, Jan. 17, 2020.

American Association of University Professors, “Statement on Anti-BDS Legislation and Universities,” Aug. 8, 2018.

American Civil Liberties Union, “ACLU Letter Opposing S.1 (Combating BDS Act),” Jan. 28, 2019.

American Civil Liberties Union, “Third Federal Court Blocks Anti-BDS Law as Unconstitutional,” Apr. 25, 2019.

Ben-Ami, Jeremy and Rabbi Jill Jacobs. “Americans Shouldn't Forfeit Their Freedom of Speech So States Can Support Israel,” NBC News, Jan. 15, 2020.

Center for Constitutional Rights, “CCR Joins Rights Organizations in Opposing Anti-Semitism Awareness Act ,” Sept. 19, 2017.

Defending Rights & Dissent, “Oppose the Combating BDS Act of 2019,” no date.

Feinstein, Senator Dianne. “Feinstein: I Won’t Support Unconstitutional Israel Anti-boycott Legislation,” Jan. 7, 2019.

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act Continues to Threaten Free Speech on Campus,” Apr. 12, 2019.

Gibbons, Chip. “Anti-boycott Bills Are Part of Wider Crackdown on Protest,” National Lawyers Guild, March 17, 2017.

Hauss, Brian. “Laws Suppressing Boycotts of Israel Don’t Prevent Discrimination — They Violate Civil Liberties,” ACLU, Feb. 22, 2019.

Khoury, Dina Rizk and Laurie Brand. “Letter Criticizing President Trump’s Order on Combatting Anti-Semitism,” Committee on Academic Freedom, Middle East Studies Association, Dec. 12, 2019.

Leveritt, Alan. “We’re a Small Arkansas Newspaper. Why Is the State Making Us Sign a Pledge About Israel?,” New York Times, Nov. 22, 2021.

Los Angeles Times Editorial Board, “Editorial: Boycotts of Israel Are a Protected Form of Free Speech,” Los Angeles Times, July 6, 2016.

National Coalition Against Censorship, “Anti-BDS Legislation in Senate Disregards Free Speech,” Jan. 11, 2019.

Nelson, Cary and Other Members of the Alliance for Academic Freedom, “What’s Wrong with the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act,” Inside Higher Ed, June 12, 2018.

New York Times Editorial Board, “Curbing Speech in the Name of Helping Israel,” New York Times, Dec. 18, 2018.

Stern, Kenneth S. “Will Campus Criticism of Israel Violate Federal Law?,” Opinion, New York Times, Dec. 12, 2016.

Trachtenberg, Barry, “Congress’s Anti-Semitism Awareness Act Doesn’t Protect Jews–It Protects Israel,” Forward, Jul. 3, 2018.

Opinion polls

Saltzberg, Emma, Senior Fellow, Data for Progress, “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (Polling),” Data for Progress, Nov. 22, 2019.

Telhami, Shibley. “American Attitudes toward the Middle East,” Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings, Oct. 2019.


Anti-Boycott Laws 'Opening Up a Pandora's Box' for Free Speech,” Christiane Amanpour, CNN, Dec.1., 2021.

Discussion of the new documentary Boycott, which examines widespread state legislation targeting the BDS movement.
Discussion of the new documentary Boycott, which examines widespread state legislation targeting the BDS movement.

Interview with:

  • Julian Bacha, director of the film Boycott
  • Alan Leveritt, editor of the Arkansas Times

Criminalizing Dissent: The Attack on BDS and Pro-Palestinian Speech” held at the Fine Arts Center, UMass, Amherst, The Media Education Foundation & the Resistance Studies Initiative, Nov. 12, 2019.

Criminalizing Dissent Screenshot

“Criminalizing Dissent: The Attack on BDS & Pro-Palestinian Speech,” a panel featuring leading advocates for Palestinian rights, was held at the UMass-Amherst Fine Arts Center on Nov. 12, 2019 in front of a capacity crowd despite being condemned by university officials and right-wing pro-Israel pressure groups. The panel addressed mounting efforts by U.S. political leaders, right-wing lobbying groups, and college and university administrators to silence pro-Palestinian speech on American campuses and criminalize support for BDS, a nonviolent movement that seeks to pressure Israel to end its violations of Palestinian human rights. Topics included the recent bipartisan vote by the U.S. House of Representatives to condemn BDS, a new U.S. Department of Education policy that threatens to withdraw federal funding from institutions that allow pro-Palestinian speech critical of Israeli policy, and a formal statement issued by the chancellor of UMass condemning the event.


  • Linda Sarsour is a Palestinian-American political activist and co-founder of MPower Change, the largest Muslim-led social and racial justice organization in the nation. She is also former co-chair of the Women’s March.
  • Omar Barghouti is a founding committee member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and a co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. He received the Gandhi Peace Award in 2017.
  • Tim Wise is among the most prominent anti-racist writers and educators in the United States. An acclaimed college lecturer, he is the author of seven books, including the bestselling White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son.
  • Shaun King is a journalist and activist, CEO and Founder of The North Star, Writer in Residence at Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project, and one of the leading voices of the Black Lives Matter movement.
  • Dima Khalidi is the founder and director of Palestine Legal and Cooperating Counsel with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). She oversees Palestine Legal’s array of legal and advocacy work to protect people speaking out for Palestinian rights from attacks on their civil and constitutional rights.
  • Cornel West is a prominent and provocative democratic intellectual. A professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard University, he is best known for his books, Race Matters and Democracy Matters, and his memoir, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud.

Federal Crackdown on Campus Palestine Activism: What You Should Know,” hosted by Palestine Legal to discuss the growing federal scrutiny of campus advocacy for Palestinian rights, August 2020.


  • Professors Rabab Abdulhadi and Jasbir Puar
  • Three CUNY law students
  • Palestine Legal staff Mitchell Kaye, Liz Jackson and Leila Elaqad.

Federal Crackdown on Campus Palestine Activism Screenshot

WEBINAR: Legislating Against Criticism of Israel—the Ongoing Assault on Americans’ Free Speech,” Foundation for Middle East Peace, April 14, 2020.


  • Peter Beinart, Non-Resident Fellow, Foundation for Middle East Peace
  • Dima Khalidi, Palestine Legal
  • Lara Friedman, Foundation for Middle East Peace

Legislating Against Criticism of Israel Screenshot


BDS Movement

“This website is maintained by the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), the coalition of Palestinian organisations that leads and supports the BDS movement and by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), a BNC member organisation.”

BDS Movement

Constitutionality Issues & BDS Legislation: Source Docs & Expert Views,” Foundation for Middle East Peace, Feb. 13, 2020.


“There is an ongoing campaign in Congress and in state legislatures to pass laws barring BDS against Israel and/or boycotts or other forms of economic pressure against settlements. In parallel, efforts are ongoing at the State and Federal level to define criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism and use this definition to quash free speech and activism on campuses."

Website includes:

Palestine Legal

“Palestine Legal is an independent organization dedicated to defending and advancing the civil rights and liberties of people in the US who speak out for Palestinian freedom.”

Palestine Legal

Website includes:

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SRRT Resolutions and Statements (in reverse chronological order)

Year SRRT Resolutions and Statements Outcome
2020 Response to the Report of the Resolution Review Task Force. Statement by SRRT Action Council, pp. 1-9. This SRRT statement was not submitted as a resolution to Council.
2020 Resolution Opposing the Free Speech and Intellectual Freedom Restrictions in the Combating BDS Act, Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, and Related Legislation and proposed amendment, pp. 14-16. Resolution was the revised version of the 2019 Resolution in Defense of the Free Speech Rights of Palestinian Rights Activists. The revised resolution was endorsed by SRRT Action Council. Without endorsement by any of the committees represented on task force, the resolution died. The original version—see below—was then defeated in ALA Council.*
2019 Resolution in Defense of the Free Speech Rights of Palestinian Rights Activists Approved by the ALA Membership meeting, then referred to task force by ALA Council 2019. Without endorsement by any of the committees represented on task force, the resolution died. The original version was then defeated in ALA Council.”*
2018 SRRT Action Council Statement on Hate Speech and Libraries This statement was not submitted as a resolution to ALA Council.
2014 Resolution on Whistleblower Edward Snowden
2013-2014 ALA CD#37
Failed and 2 substitutes passed.
2013 Resolution in Support of Whistleblower Edward Snowden (PDF)
2012-2013 ALA CD#39
Initially passed by ALA Council, but referred back to committees and poor substitute passed.


Resolution in Support of Whistleblower Bradley Manning
2012-2013 ALA CD#38
Failed and poor substitute passed.
2012 Resolution in Support of Whistleblower Bradley Manning
2011-2012 ALA CD#44
Defeated by ALA Council.
2011 Resolution in Support of WikiLeaks
2010-2011 ALA CD#38
ALA Midwinter Meeting
Slightly revised but defeated by the ALA Council in June 2012. (2011-2012 ALA CD#43).
2011 Resolution on WikiLeaks and Federal Agencies
2010-2011 ALA CD#37
ALA Midwinter Meeting

Defeated by ALA Council.

1993 Resolution on Israeli Censorship This was a SRRT resolution not sent to ALA Council.**
1992 On Israeli Censorship Passed by ALA Membership Meeting, then by ALA Council. Subsequently, it was rescinded by ALA Council.**
1990 Resolution on Israeli Censorship A significantly weaker version was presented by IRC to Council. After further weakening, including deletion of reference to the Occupied Territories, ALA Council adopted a general resolution on censorship and library closures in the Middle East.**

*For the history of the 2019-2020 resolutions defending the free speech rights of the movement for Palestinian rights, see Tara Brady’s “Councilor's Report from ALA Annual Conference 2019,” SRRT Newsletter, Issue #208, Oct. 2019; SRRT Action Council, “Response to the Report of the Resolution Review Task Force,” Jan. 17, 2020; and the IRTF report, “Successes and Disappointment at ALA Midwinter,” April 2020.

**For discussion of the complex history of the 1990-1993 SRRT resolutions on Israeli censorship, see Al Kagan’s article, “ALA, IFLA, and Israel/Palestine,” Progressive Librarian, Issue #44, Spring 2016, pp. 72-75.

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