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Dr. James “J.P”. Messina, an assistant professor at Purdue University, brings a unique perspective on free speech and censorship in his latest book, Private Censorship released in October of 2023.  

“We’re hearing a lot about censorship these days, and today, less of it concerns the paradigm cases of powerful states suppressing dissent, but more and more, it involves actions by private actors,” said Dr. Messina 

Private Censorship employs insights from philosophy, legal theory, and social science to assess the phenomenon of censorship by non-state parties, and highlights the philosophical issues at stake in this highly politicized topic. 

To better understand the concerns surrounding non-state interference with speech, Messina addresses ethical and political implications by both posing and answering questions such as: What should we think when employees get fired for things they say? And, how might patterns of such firings create a climate of fear inimical to free inquiry? 

A primary goal of Messina’s research is to transcend ideological boundaries and foster a more comprehensive understanding of the importance of free expression. “We’re at a pivotal moment for free speech, but it’s becoming polarized, linked to partisan politics,” he. says. He stresses the importance of moving beyond this polarizing rhetoric and fostering a more inclusive dialogue.

Messina’s research is centered on the importance of fundamental rights, including property, association, and free expression when addressing private censorship concerns.  He examines instances of disciplinary actions taken by employers, private entities, social media platforms, and media outlets, studying how these decisions shape the dynamics of free expression. His research serves as an indispensable resource for those immersed in academics, global and domestic policy, and global free speech advocates.

Dr. James P. Messina

Since its release, Private Censorship has caught the attention of Nadine Strossen, former president of the ACLU,  nationally recognized expert on issues of free speech, and a long-standing IHS partner. Strossen provided her thoughts on Messina’s book echoing his stance on the value of free speech and open inquiry in society today. 

“As concerns about censorship focus increasingly on private, non-governmental powers, Messina’s Private Censorship is essential reading.”

-Nadine Strossen, former president, ACLU

“The book offers a comprehensive framework for understanding the changing landscape of speech interference by delving into the ethical and political dimensions of non-state and private censorship and foregrounds the importance of rights to property, association, and free expression in society today,” says Strossen.

“Recognizing the potential dangers of both unfettered speech and speech restrictions alike, Messina encourages us to foster a culture that is conducive to free speech and democratic values while also protecting a diverse and independent private sphere. This readable and timely book will enhance the ongoing public debates about these critical issues.” 

Messina’s journey to authoring Private Censorship has been closely intertwined with his long-standing relationship with the Institute for Humane Studies. “IHS played a significant role in my intellectual development,” Messina says. From early on in his academic career, he has participated in IHS seminars and academic workshops, introducing him to new perspectives on political theory. His involvement with IHS has helped him establish connections with scholars across academia, including philosophy professor Mark LeBar of Florida State University, an expert on ethics and a valued member of the IHS network. LeBar’s advice and mentorship early on fostered a valuable connection for Messina.  

Throughout his career, IHS has served as a source of mentorship and funding, which he has returned in kind through his dedication to teaching the next generation of scholars. “Unwavering support from IHS has allowed me and my colleagues to provide programming for students at our funding-strapped public institution that rivals those found at the best small liberal arts colleges across the country. IHS’s support has meant the world to these students, and by extension, to me as an educator,” Messina says, speaking on the early IHS support he received as a professor at the University of New Orleans.  

Additionally, his research is making an impact within the scholarly network and has appeared in several publications, including Philosophers’ Imprint, the Canadian Journal of Philosophy, the Journal of Applied Philosophy, Politics, Philosophy, and Economics, Kantian Review, and the British Journal for the History of Philosophy

More recently, Messina presented at the Society for Business Ethics annual conference, where he gave a lecture on his new book and joined the ‘Author Meets Critics’ session to discuss the issues of free speech and censorship.

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