Compelled Speech

Constitutional Commentary, 2006

San Diego Legal Studies Paper No. 07-51

21 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2006

See all articles by Larry Alexander

Larry Alexander

University of San Diego School of Law


In this essay I take up the question of whether and how we are harmed when government compels us to utter propositions whose truth we reject or which we find offensive for other reasons. I conclude that none of the various explanations offered - that we suffer harm to our autonomy, to our epistemic capacity, to our integrity, to our control over self-presentation, to our compliance with social norms or performative norms, or to our preference not to deceive others - is ultimately satisfactory. Along the way I offer a taxonomy of the Supreme Court's "compelled speech" cases, arguing that only West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette and Wooley v. Maynard actually raise the issue of compelled speech. I also introspect about the phenomenology of uttering propositions we do not believe, and how that compares to singing such propositions in hymns, or reciting them in plays.

Keywords: compelled speech, freedom of belief, autonomy

JEL Classification: K1, K10

Suggested Citation

Alexander, Lawrence, Compelled Speech. Constitutional Commentary, 2006; San Diego Legal Studies Paper No. 07-51. Available at SSRN:

Lawrence Alexander (Contact Author)

University of San Diego School of Law ( email )

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