Standing up for the First Amendment

Published: September 9th, 2009

Category: Spotlights

Clay Calvert

Clay Calvert

Joseph L. Brechner Eminent Scholar in Mass Communication

People who follow First Amendment issues and controversies already know Clay Calvert’s name. Now they’ll associate it with the University of Florida.

Calvert started this fall as the Joseph L. Brechner Eminent Scholar in Mass Communication, bringing to UF a reputation as an outstanding scholar of media law and expert in free speech.

Defending and explaining the First Amendment is challenging, but Calvert savors the role. It’s not about the substance of a message, but the right to express it, he said.

“The First Amendment protects us all, no matter what our point of view might be,” Calvert said.

Recently, he weighed in on an incident in Gainesville’s public schools where a few students were wearing T-shirts proclaiming “Islam is of the Devil.” Calvert told local media the students had a right to express that view. School administrators said it was a violation of the dress code, but Calvert said the Supreme Court has decided language targeting “offensive” speech is vague.

Free speech in public schools is among several issues grabbing the attention of experts like Calvert. He ticked off a list of just a few hot topics: regulation of violent video games, censorship during times of war, and local laws regulating sexually oriented businesses.

While a professor at The Pennsylvania State University for 13 years, Calvert was often interviewed by national media such as The New York Times, NBC’s “The Today Show” and The Washington Post. He also frequently writes articles for law journals and op-ed columns for newspapers.

Within the first two weeks of classes starting, Calvert had already penned a column published in a Florida newspaper. He hopes his focus on contemporary First Amendment issues will gain more attention for UF’s College of Journalism and Communications and possibly help to recruit more students.

Calvert is teaching a graduate-level seminar in mass media law research this fall and will teach a media law class for undergraduates in the spring. He is the co-author of the country’s best-selling textbook on media law for undergraduates. He earned a law degree from the University of the Pacific, and both his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees from Stanford University.

Despite his strong defense of the First Amendment, he believes there are certain limits on what it protects, such as true threats of violence, false statements and the exploitation of minors. “But the great thing about free speech is that it’s provocative,” he added.

Story credit
Ron Wayne — UF News Bureau

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