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Free to Be Blasphemous? A Conversation on the Legal Principles of the Freedom of Expression with Niels Petersen, Kent Greenawalt and Gianluca P. Parolin

Friday, November 16, 2012, 6:30 p.m.

The recent release of an anti-Islam video on youtube has refueled the debate on the scope of the freedom of expression. On the one hand, the freedom to voice ones opinion is an important precondition for a functioning democracy. On the other hand, this freedom can’t be limitless. Defamation is, for example, penalized in virtually all countries. Nevertheless, the limits are drawn differently in the United States and in Europe. While the freedom of expression is traditionally guaranteed very broadly in the United States, Europe seems to put a stronger emphasis on the protection of individual and collective honor. Almost twenty years ago, the European Court of Human Rights approved, for example, a ban of a movie that was imposed by Austrian authorities because it insulted the Christian religion. We want to discuss where the lines between freedom of expression and the protection against hate speech should be drawn with lawyers and philosophers from both sides of the Atlantic. To what extent should it be possible to restrict freedom of expression to protect religious and other concerns? How can we identify legitimate concerns that should be protected? Should security considerations play a role in this decision?

Niels Petersen is our current Deutsches Haus DAAD visiting fellow. He is a Senior Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods. His main areas of research are international law, comparative constitutional law and constitutional theory. He holds a Ph.D. in law from the Goethe University Frankfurt a. M. and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences from Columbia University. Furthermore, he worked as a legal advisor for the GIZ Legal Advisory Service in Beijing in 2005/06 and was a Visiting Professor at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin in spring 2012. At NYU, Niels is working on a project on the rationality of balancing in constitutional adjudication.

Kent Greenawalt is editor-in-chief of Columbia Law Review. Before joining the Columbia faculty in 1965, was law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice John M. Harlan and subsequently spent part of a summer as an attorney with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights in Jackson, Mississippi. From 1966 to 1969, he served on the Civil Rights Committee of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. Member of the Due Process Committee of the American Civil Liberties Union, 1969-71. Deputy U.S. solicitor general, 1971-72. Fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies. Visiting fellow at Clare Hall, Cambridge, 1972-73. Visiting fellow, All Souls College, Oxford, 1979. Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Member, American Philosophical Society. President, American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy, 1991-93. Main interests are in constitutional law and jurisprudence, with special emphasis on church and state, freedom of speech, legal interpretation, and criminal responsibility.

Gianluca P. Parolin is currently a global fellow at NYU Law School. He joined the American University in Cairo law department in Fall 2008, after having served as a University research fellow and earlier as a post-doc fellow in the law department of the University of Torino (Italy).  It is the same University of Torino that awarded him an LLB/LLM (in 2001 with honors) and later a PhD in Public Law (2006). At AUC he has taught four courses in the broad area of comparative law (comparative law, comparative constitutional law, Islamic law reform, and undergrad POLS Egyptian law), one in the area of international/European law (EU Law), and two in the area of human rights (human rights in the Middle East and a special topic on citizenship in the Arab World).  He also teaches at Cairo University in the English section of the law school a course on comparative government titled Nuzum siyasiyya wa-mabadi’ al-qanun al-dusturi.
In collaboration with the NYU Law School. DAAD sponsored event.

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