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Book Chapter

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The United States’ best-known constitutional protection internationally is surely the First Amendment. Around the world, the United States is perceived as protecting freedom of expression and the press first and foremost, among all rights. And whether admired for its purity and idealism or dismissed as naïve and sui generis, the United States’ approach to free speech is globally examined, critiqued, and debated. It is the United States’ most prominent constitutional export, informing the drafting of foreign constitutions, statutes, and judicial interpretations, and undergirding the protection for freedom of expression in the international and regional human rights systems.

This chapter could focus on the many areas in which international and regional human rights law have substantively converged with the US protection of freedom of expression. But I will focus on the area where the chasm between US and international approaches is the greatest — the area of hate speech. I argue that while the international community has been much more willing to restrict expression that is hateful and discriminatory, in the name of protecting other rights, the United States’ commitment to free expression in a democracy and its suspicion of government regulation have vitally shaped global norms regulating hate speech. Even in this contested realm, the United States’ commitment to free speech has helped secure freedom of expression as a fundamental human right, shaped negotiations over the content of that right, and informed ongoing global interpretations of freedom of expression. From a platform firmly rooted in the First Amendment, the United States, in turn, has zealously promoted protection of freedom of expression internationally, including in the context of hate speech, while distancing itself from aspects of international law that diverge from the First Amendment.


First Amendment | Human Rights Law | Law