The Tennessee Bar Association’s "Balancing Civility and Free Expression Initiative" involved three public forums -- in Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville. The forums were designed to encourage a public conversation about the tensions between civility and free speech, the state of the public square and the challenges of maintaining civil discourse in a democracy.

Each program focused on a particular topic, feature a panel of experts who presented real-life scenarios that raise civility and free speech issues, and concluded with a question and answer session with the audience.

Public Programs


September 18, 2012

University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.

This forum focused on civility in the public square, where policy debates -- especially those with cross-cultural implications -- can quickly become contentious. It used the current effort to consolidate city and county schools in Memphis as a case study in how to bring civility into a divisive debate. Three members of the Transition Planning Commission -- the body responsible for overseeing the consolidation -- served as the program panelists.


October 16, 2012

University of Lipscomb’s Ezell Center 

The First Amendment Center and Lipscomb University hosted the second forum focused on civility and the courts. The issues affecting access to and delivery of justice were also discussed. Panelists discussed the impact on judicial decisions when the courts are accused of acting in political or partisan ways; whether the courts can or should respond to attacks questioning their legitimacy; and what role the media plays with regard to civility towards the courts? Does the media have responsibility for the tone, substance and evaluation of decisions?


February 21, 2013

Howard H. Baker Jr. Center at the University of Tenneessee, Knoxville

The final forum looked at civility and effective governance, using the model emulated by former U.S. Senator and Ambassador to Japan Howard H. Baker Jr. The panelists included Governor Bill Haslam who was joined by former governors Phil Bredesen and Don Sundquist. The discussion focused on how these issues play out in the political and public policy arena, including on the campaign trail, during candidate debates and within legislative bodies.

All of the programs were moderated by Memphis lawyer Bill Haltom. He is currently writing a book on civility and politics using former Sen. Baker as the exemplar. Baker, who was Tennessee's first popularly elected Republican senator, became known as the "Great Conciliator" for his ability to bring lawmakers from different political parties together to resolve pressing issues.