Free Speech Forum

Free Speech Forum
October 3, 2023
6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Houston Cole Library, Rooms 1103 A&B

This event will feature individuals with expertise in Constitutional Law, the history of Free Speech, and former policymakers who have actively participated in First Amendment issues. The featured topic is Free Speech as it applies in the general sense to all American citizens (students, staff, faculty, community members, etc.) and not exclusively to professors and academic freedom, although we do welcome both academic and "real world" questions.

Free Speech Forum Program

US Flag with Houston Cole Library in the background.

Free Speech Forum Panelists

Luther Strange

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange

Attorney General Strange successfully argued a Free Speech case before the United States Supreme Court, Lane v. Franks, in 2014.   Strange served as the chairman of the Republican Attorneys General Association and as coordinating counsel for the five Gulf Coast states in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill litigation.  As attorney general, Strange made fighting public corruption a focal point of his tenure.  Attorney General Strange served as the keynote speaker for JSU’s 2011 Constitution and Citizenship Day Celebration. 

View Luther Strange's Bio (PDF)

Bryan Fair

Professor Bryan Fair

Professor Fair is Thomas E. Skinner Professor of Law at the University of Alabama School of Law with expertise in the First Amendment.  Professor Fair earned his undergraduate degree from Duke and his law degree from UCLA.  Professor Fair has served as faculty advisor for the Black Law Students Association, Outlaw, and Law Democrats.  He currently serves on the Board of Directors at the Southern Poverty Law Center.  Professor Fair served as speaker at JSU’s 2012 Constitution and Citizenship Day Celebration. 

Bryan Fair | University of Alabama School of Law (

Keith Watkins

US District Judge Keith Watkins

Judge W. Keith Watkins is Executive Committee Member and Board Member of The Judge Frank Johnson Institute in Montgomery.  Judge Watkins was appointed by President George W. Bush to the Middle District of Alabama in 2005 and elevated to Chief District Judge in 2011, where he served until he assumed senior status in 2019.  He earned his B.S. from Auburn University in 1973 graduated from the University of Alabama School of Law in 1975.  In addition to serving on the board of The Judge Frank Johnson Institute, Judge Watkins sits on the boards of the Rosa Parks Museum, the Federal Judges Association, and The American Village.

Honorable W. Keith Watkins | United States District Court (

Allen Linken

Professor Allen Linken

Dr. Allen Linken is Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Political Science at The University of Alabama.  Dr. Linken earned his BA and MPP from the University of Albany, State University of New York, his JD from Albany Law School, and his PhD from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  He teaches courses in Constitutional Law, Law and Society and Trial Advocacy.  His research interest focuses on the Supreme Court, Civil-Military Relations, and Public Law. 

Dr. Allen Linken – Political Science (

Free Speech Forum Moderators

Luther Strange

Dr. Lori Owens - Chair, JSU American Democracy Project Committee

Dr. Lori Owens, Dean of Honors and Special Programs is also a Professor of Political Science at Jacksonville State University.  She earned her BA in political science from JSU, and her MA and PhD in political science from The University of Alabama.  Dr. Owens chairs the JSU American Democracy Project Committee, the Study Abroad Subcommittee, and serves as the campus advisor for the Pre-Law Program and faculty advisor for the Model UN and Model Arab League Debate Teams.       

Dr. Owens served as chair of the Alabama Higher Education Partnership from 2007-2012 and continues to serve as a board member. She is also an emeriti member and past chair of the Alabama Women’s Commission and was a founding member of the Cherokee County Family Resource Center.     

Dr. Owens’ dissertation profiled the nomination and confirmation process of federal judges and included a detailed analysis of how the Robert Bork hearings impacted the judicial nomination and confirmation process.  Dr. Owens’ teaching interest include American Government, Southern Politics, Middle East, and Foreign Policy.  Her current research interest is the life and career of US Senator James Allen of Gadsden, Alabama.

Thomas Rains

Mr. Thomas Rains, Executive Director, The Judge Frank Johnson Institute

Mr. Thomas Rains is Executive Director of the Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr. Institute, founded in 2019.  The Institute has become an award-winning, non-partisan voice sharing stories of our Constitution and Judiciary through programs that illuminate issues and perspectives, foster thoughtful and civil discourse, and inspire our national community in our nation’s never-ending pursuit of a more perfect union.

Previously, Mr. Rains advocated for education policies to increase college and career readiness across Alabama. He has worked as a middle school teacher in the Mississippi Delta, a journalist covering finance in New York, and as a researcher of politics and policy in Washington, DC. He is a member of the advisory board for Teach For America-Alabama (previously as Vice Chair) and is a member of the Family Guidance Center of Montgomery’s Success by Six advisory board.

Mr. Rains is a graduate of Leadership Montgomery Legacy Class XXXV and the Alabama Leadership Initiative. He holds a Master of Public Administration from Columbia University and dual bachelor’s degrees in history and journalism from Boston University. An Atlanta native, Thomas was raised in Birmingham and Lanett, Alabama. He and his family have called Montgomery home since 2011.