Free Speech: It’s Not Free Anymore

by Q

Americans assume that free speech gives us the right to say what we like. That assumption is incorrect and changes depending on which way the political, social and judicial winds blow. The catch phrase of the last fifty years has been, “Free speech doesn’t give someone the right to yell ‘FIRE!’ in a crowded movie theater if no fire exists.” Such an action would cause a panic which might result in the injury or death of innocent people.

The moment that phrase became the test of what Free Speech is, we all lost an important privilege and opened the door to regulation of what we can and cannot say. The moment that even one test was added to the right of Free Speech, it ceased to be a right and became a regulated privilege. If government can regulate Free Speech, why can’t everyday citizens decide what is or is not acceptable based on any criteria?

Proof of how regulated Free Speech has become is the instant reaction that everyone has to almost any controversial comment. Saying the wrong thing can lead to instant justice. A person can easily lose their position in the community, job and reputation by just saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. What is the wrong thing? It’s anything that people decide is wrong based on popular opinion. Why have people become so intolerant?

When judges, politicians and activists began to push for the regulation of Free Speech, they probably had no idea that the premise would catch on with the public in the way it did. Now it is virtually impossible to utter a word without some sort of consequence. If someone offers you an alcoholic drink, they are promoting the use of alcohol. If one employee asks another for a date at work, it’s sexual harassment. If you disagree with a popular political view, you are not patriotic. If you argue against someone else’s viewpoint, you may be labeled a hate monger who is out to get them.

What test can be added to free speech without harming it? Should honesty be the test? That wouldn’t work because two different sides with opposing views are likely to see their own version of the truth as the correct one. Those who lie to defame or damage can be dealt with in civil court, so Honesty is not a test necessary for Free Speech. What about Hate? If saying something negative about a person or group of people can potentially cause someone else to harm them, should saying it be illegal? How many times have you said, “I hate you!” to someone without physically hurting them? If a person or group of people decides to attempt physical harm to another person or group of people, that’s illegal and will be dealt with by law enforcement and the courts.

When does Free Speech become Hate Speech? When society decides it does. That sets a dangerous precedent. Where does hate speech stop and free speech begin? If we say something negative about anything (trees, dogs, cats, lions, whales) and that thing is harmed, how long will it be before saying anything negative against that thing is made illegal or deemed to be hateful?

When does Free Speech become an obscenity? When we decide it does. Does this mean that obscenity should be allowed and covered under Free Speech? No. There has always been a clear boundary between Free Speech and Obscenity. No matter how many obscenities become a part of most people’s everyday language, it is still a separate and obvious form of expression that exists apart from normal conversation. Because obscenities change through the years, they should never fall under the right of Free Speech. It is up to society to accept or reject the use of obscenities based on individual and group values at the time. Placing the use of obscenity under the umbrella of Free Speech merely adds yet another restriction or test to this essential Right.

When you add any sort of test to a freedom, it devalues that freedom and places it in danger of vanishing into a sea of political correctness. Whatever popular social or political that view happens to be in vogue at the time will determine the viability of Free Speech and now, in fact, does. It’s time for Americans to return our Right of Free Speech to the realm of absolute freedom, being devoid of tests or subject to the ebb and flow of current events, values and issues.


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