Working Paper #16

Freedom of Speech, Cyberspace, Harassment Law, and the Clinton Administration


Abstract: May the government, acting as sovereign, suppress bigoted political advocacy, sexually themed jokes, potentially offensive art, and religious proselytizing? Conventional free speech doctrine tells us the answer is no; but hostile environment harassment law—under which speech in workplaces, educational institutions, or places of public accommodation is being punished by the government on the grounds that it creates a ‘hostile, abusive, or offensive’ environment based on people’s race, religion, sex, etc.—seems to say the answer is yes. Harassment law has thus become one of the broadest modern speech restrictions, both inside cyberspace and outside it. This article explores the cyberspace implications of harassment law through the lens of four specific Clinton-era controversies.