Explore the boundaries of free speech at UC Irvine and USC events

Charlie Hebdo is known for pushing the envelope with satirical articles and cartoons about religion, politics and culture.

The French magazine’s caricatures of Muhammad apparently led masked gunmen seeking to avenge the Islamic prophet to kill 12 people in an attack on the magazine’s Paris offices on Jan. 7, 2015.

The carnage added shocking urgency to a question long debated by journalists, artists and others: Should there be boundaries to free expression, and if so, what are they?

That and similar issues will be discussed by authors, editors, professors, cartoonists and other experts at a conference this month presented by the Forum for the Academy and the Public at UC Irvine.


The event, called “Freedom of Expression in a Changing World: What Cannot Be Said,” will be Jan. 22-24. The timing corresponds with the one-year anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attack.

“The idea that there are certain things that cannot be said is part of what this conference is about and also part of what led to those killings,” said Amy Wilentz, co-founder and chairwoman of the Forum for the Academy and the Public. “They published very provocative cartoons and were threatened many times. We’ll be looking at these kinds of topics, but the conference is also much broader.”

The first two days of the event will be at UC Irvine’s School of Law and Student Center; the third will be at USC’s Ronald Tutor Center.

More than 25 speakers are scheduled to explore censorship, legal issues, the digital era, forms of expression and journalism and repression.


Sponsors and moderators from UC Irvine include law school Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, history professor Jeff Wasserstrom and associate professor of English, comparative literature and African American studies Arlene Keizer.

The Forum for the Academy and the Public — whose board consists of members of the college’s Literary Journalism program, School of Humanities and School of Law — often presents conferences and lectures on timely topics. It has been planning “Freedom of Expression” for about a year.

The conference will include discussions with editorial cartoonist Matt Bors, Pulitzer Prize- and Emmy Award-winning writer Barton Gellman, radio host Krista Tippett, actor and comedian Azhar Usman, New York Law School professor Nadine Strossen and professionals from other disciplines.

The event will conclude with a discussion of race and rap lyrics led by USC law professor Jody Armour and a performance by a surprise musical guest.

Chan writes for Times Community News.

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