One on 1 with Ian Rosenberg

“It’s important that we recognize the value and the patriotism inherent in protecting dissent”

Ian Rosenberg, the author of “The Fight For Free Speech” and the new graphic novel “Free Speech Handbook”, talks to us about how protecting dissent is patriotic, as well as his inspiration behind creating the Free Speech Handbook.


IAN ROSENBERG: The reasons I wrote this book are because I want people to be able to engage with their free speech rights in a way that will bring about those important purposes of the First Amendment itself.

MAXWELL NOSBISCH: My name is Maxwell Nosbisch and I’m the Manager of Visitor Experiences here at the First Amendment Museum. 

Today, I’m talking to a very interesting guest and friend of the First Amendment Museum, Ian Rosenberg. Ian has over 20 years of experience as a media lawyer and has worked as legal counsel for ABC News since 2003. 

And he recently published a new book entitled The Fight for Free Speech along with the graphic novel companion called The Free Speech Handbook. Ian, thank you so much for joining us.

IAN ROSENBERG: My pleasure, Maxwell. Thanks for having me. 

MAXWELL NOSBISCH: Why do you think the First Amendment is important? 

IAN ROSENBERG: I think the First Amendment is vital to our ability to evolve and change as a society. It’s vital to preserving our democracy. 

The reasons I wrote this book are because I want people to be able to engage with their free speech rights in a way that will bring about those important purposes of the First Amendment itself to promote social change to help our society evolve and to protect democracy itself. 

MAXWELL NOSBISCH: What inspired you to write the Fight for Free Speech and the Free Speech Handbook?

IAN ROSENBERG: Well, it was really conversations with my kids at the dinner table that inspired me to write the Fight for Free Speech and particularly Free Speech Handbook. 

They were interested in whether they could participate in the National School Walkout and

they wanted to know what their rights were and I realized that after 20 years of being a media

lawyer, I felt very comfortable in understanding the issues but I realized in talking with them that I could condense the wisdom the past in a way without dumbing it down.

Students particularly really didn’t have a resource to turn to to explain their free speech rights in a way that was both clear and engaging. 

And what’s amazing about the graphic novel is not only does it answer the questions that people have, I think, about free speech and fill that need, but it also really tells fascinating stories in an unbelievably engaging way and that’s thanks to my co-creator Mike Cavallaro, who is the artist,

who really does amazing things with bringing these stories to life. 

These stories are thrilling. The stories of the average people who, you know, Mary Beth Tinker who wore an armband in Iowa during the 60s to protest America’s involvement in the Vietnam War while she was just you know 13 years old in middle school. That’s an incredible story.

Civil rights heroes who give us our modern libel law because of the case New York Times vs.

Sullivan and it’s just something that doesn’t often come up in the course of law school or in the course of you know academic treatises ’cause they’re focused on rules and doctrine rather than non-fiction stories that are really compelling. 

MAXWELL NOSBISCH: What do you hope people take away from your books?

IAN ROSENBERG: Every day we are faced with sort of free speech dilemmas, just as regular

participants in our democracy, and I hope what people take away from this book is the ability to have the knowledge to advocate and act on their free speech rights as they exist and to try and change and grow our rights in different ways as they may choose but based on the knowledge of where we have been in the past and therefore, use that to determine where we’re going.

So, I like to think of advocacy for free speech as a grassroots activity that can happen every

day and I hope both of these books, The Fight for Free Speech and Free Speech Handbook

really help empower people to make that a grassroots practice.

MAXWELL NOSBISCH: What are some contemporary or current fights over free speech or for free speech? 

IAN ROSENBERG: The most recent contemporary battle that’s reached and been decided upon

by the Supreme Court just this past June is Mahanoy School District versus BL. 

BL ended up being Brandi Levy, and she’s better known as the cheerleade who cursed on Snapchat when she found out she didn’t fake the team. Brandi Levy was engaging in, you know, her cursing speech outside of the classroom on the weekend. 

And what the Supreme Court decided, eight members of the court all agreed that student speech is vital to our marketplace of ideas and it’s vital to our democracy and that schools are in fact a laboratory for celebrating and protecting free speech today.

MAXWELL NOSBISCH: How do you exercise your First Amendment rights on a daily basis? 

IAN ROSENBERG: So, I celebrate the First Amendment by engaging in protest, peaceful protest and engaging in dissent. 

I hope that when people read these books, they’ll learn about one, their right to engage in protest themselves but two, more importantly, to realize that dissent is rarely popular and

sometimes it takes on sort of a rosy glow of inevitability when we look at it in the past but

in today’s world, it’s important that we recognize the value, the patriotism inherent in protecting dissent even when that’s a message that we may personally disagree with when we hear it from other people.

MAXWELL NOSBISCH: I just wanna show the book again because I again I can’t recommend the book enough, there’s the other book.

IAN ROSENBERG: Free Speech Handbook comes out on November 30th and will be available at bookstores everywhere. So, I hope people will get this graphic novel guide to free speech. 

MAXWELL NOSBISCH: Excellent and like I said, thank you so much for joining us. 

IAN ROSENBERG: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.