Constitutional Law II

B668 is taught by D. Conkle, D. Johnsen, S. Williams


This course will focus on the First Amendment. We will spend the majority of the semester examining freedom of expression. We will begin with an overview of free speech theory and then turn to the issues that arise when government action interferes with various types of speech, including politically subversive speech, libel and defamation, pornography, hate speech, and commercial speech. We will also discuss the problems posed by regulation of symbolic acts of expression (like flag burning), limitations on the use of public areas such as parks and streets, and campaign finance reform. The remainder of the course will focus on the religion clauses of the First Amendment. We will examine cases concerning the meaning of religion and the protection afforded to religious practice, particularly when it violates general laws. We will also explore the interpretation of the establishment clause, in cases involving school prayer and school vouchers, the teaching of evolution, and public sponsorship of Christmas displays. The course will include both lecture and discussion. There will be one final examination which will be a takehome exam.


This course on the First Amendment explores issues of freedom of expression and religion. Enrollment is limited to twenty students. In addition to the substantive study of First Amendment issues, this course offers an opportunity to improve writing skills and engage in extensive class discussion. Several writing assignments will be due throughout the semester based on assigned reading (no independent research). The first graded assignment will involve rewriting the paper after detailed feedback provided in an individual meeting with the professor. The class also involves daily class discussion of a range of consequential, often controversial, speech and religion issues. Approximately three quarters of the semester is devoted to freedom of expression including: speech that advocates unlawful or subversive activity including regarding war and terrorism, threats, defamation, fighting words, offensive expression, pornography, obscenity, hate speech, commercial speech, the regulation of campaign contributions and expenditures by individuals and corporations, restrictions on violent video games and depictions of animal cruelty, symbolic expression such as flag burning and cross burning, and special issues posed by limitations on the use of public areas (such as parks and streets), public funds, and the Internet. Approximately the last quarter of the semester focuses on the religion clauses: the Establishment Clause (including school prayer and other religious expression in public schools, the public funding of religious entities, and religious displays on public property) and the Free Exercise Clause (including religious claims for exemptions from civil rights and health care laws). The course satisfies the advanced writing requirement for graduation. No exam.