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    06.25.15 Professor Susan Herman Discusses First Amendment at Jerusalem Press Club
    Susan Herman

    Professor Susan Herman, president of the American Civil Liberties Union, participated in a panel at the international conference on the “Freedom of the Press” hosted by the Jerusalem Press Club on May 25.

    The panel of lawyers and journalists weighed the contemporary state of freedom of the press and threats to journalists with the attempt to fight terrorism.  

    Professor Herman offered an American constitutional law perspective. While other countries, including Israel, censor press coverage of anti-terrorism efforts, she explained, in the United States, the First Amendment makes such censorship impossible in all but the most extraordinary case. The threat to freedom of speech and the press in the United States, she said, has been the government’s extraordinary efforts to keep the press from getting information and publishing it. She cited as an example the Obama administration‘s use of  the Espionage Act against government employees to prevent whistle-blowers from leaking information about government conduct ranging from illegal surveillance to torture. Professor Herman said she doubted that secrecy and surveillance in the name of counter-terrorism was beneficial for the United States, as it has a chilling effect on freedom of speech, press, association, and religion.

    Other panel participants included Dr. Ely Karmon, Senior Research Scholar at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT); Steve Linde, Editor-in-Chief of the Jerusalem Post; and David Witzthum, Editor and Anchorman, Channel One Television, Israel. The panel was chaired by Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer, Vice President of Research at the Israel Democracy Institute.

    “It was sobering to meet the journalists from around the world who attended this conference, and to hear about their experiences of blatant censorship and even the disappearance and deaths of their colleagues,” Professor Herman said. “The participants included a writer for Charlie Hebdo and journalists from countries as far-flung as Liberia, Mongolia, and Bosnia. As one Turkish journalist put it, ‘freedom of speech is not what is most important. What really matters is freedom after speech.’”

    Professor Herman has served as President of the ACLU since 2008. At the Law School, she holds a chair as Centennial Professor of Law, and teaches courses in Constitutional Law and Criminal Procedure, and seminars on Law and Literature, and Terrorism and Civil Liberties. She is affiliated with the Center for Law, Language & Cognition and is an Edward V. Sparer Public Interest Law Fellowship committee member.

    Her most recent book, Taking Liberties: The War on Terror and the Erosion of American Democracy (Oxford 2011) was awarded the 2012 Roy C. Palmer Civil Liberties Prize from the Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago-Kent College of Law. She also wrote The Right to a Speedy and Public Trial (Praeger Publishers 2006) and co-authored Terrorism, Government, and Law: National Authority and Local Autonomy in the War on Terror (Praeger Publishers 2008).

    Watch video of the panel discussion.

    For further reading: "Journalists, academics ponder whether journalism serves interests of terrorists or governments," Jerusalem Post