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Abstract

The modern First Amendment embodies the idea of freedom as a fundamental good of contemporary American society. The First Amendment protects and promotes everybody’s freedom of thought, belief, speech, and religious exercise as basic goods—as given ends of American political and moral life. It does not protect these freedoms for the sake of promoting any particular vision of the virtuous society. It is neutral on that score, setting limits only in those rare cases when the exercise of a First Amendment freedom exacts an intolerable social cost. The Article concludes with two speculations. First, it seems we are no longer arguing about whether to restrict freedom, but for what ends. If that is true, then those arguments should neither begin nor end with egalitarian and sexual-libertarian fervor. Second, there is no account of the First Amendment that maximizes freedom for everyone—for all persons and groups. There is only the society that America was before the rise of the conventional account of the First Amendment and the society that it is becoming after it.

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