Freedom of Speech

The New York Times is running an opinion article today on freedom of speech, specifically in regard to the recent protests against far-right speakers on university campuses. While I abhor the opinions of the far-right neo-nazis, I disagree with the premise of the article.

The idea of freedom of speech does not mean a blanket permission to say anything anybody thinks. It means balancing the inherent value of a given view with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community.

No, freedom of speech means that the government can’t come and arrest you for speaking your mind. I’m in no way legally obligated to ensure that what I say doesn’t offend anyone else.1 On the flip side, no one is obligated to provide anyone else with a platform for speaking either. So, if you are invited to a University to speak, but the students protest against you because you believe one group of people to be genetically superior to another group, that’s not an attack on free speech, that’s dissent against you and your views. I understand if that hurts your feelings. I don’t care.

It’s not quite right to presume that the “left” supports free speech as long as it agrees with them. Both the left and the right support free speech, but if your speech is offensive, bigoted, and racist, don’t be surprised when people get upset and show you the door.2

  1. As long as I’m not starting a fight or inciting a riot. This article in the Washington Post does a good job of explaining where the line is. 

  2. And for God’s sake, don’t cry about how unfair it is.