Shouting Fire: Stories from the Edge of Free Speech

Liz Garbus’s vital and unexpectedly personal accounting of the First Amendment right to free speech explores a profound but fragile and increasingly menaced cornerstone of American democracy. Garbus makes this case with coolheaded assurance and utterly engaging style, letting provocative interviewees—including prominent historians, jurists, activists and ideologues from across the political spectrum—flesh out today’s deeply contested post-9/11 recoil from civil liberties. With deft use of archival footage and pop-cultural references, she traces the embattled history of free expression through flashpoints like the McCarthy era and the Vietnam War, laying particular and instructive emphasis on recent cases like Ward Churchill’s dismissal from the University of Colorado, principal Debbie Almontaser’s forced resignation from a New York English-Arabic public school (labeled a terrorism-stoking “madrassa” by right-wing critics) and a Christian student’s suspension for a homophobic slogan on his T-shirt. Trial lawyer Martin Garbus, the filmmaker’s father, adds the personal angle as his esteemed career wends through some of the most crucial cases discussed—including his difficult decision as a young Jewish ACLU attorney to defend the rights of American Nazis in Skokie, Illinois. While the film underscores the pivotal role of the Supreme Court, Martin Garbus sums up another key point: Free speech is no gift from above, but a public battle to win or lose each day.
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