“Speech restrictions are like poison gas. They seem like they’re a great weapon when you’ve got your target in sight. But then the wind shifts.” — Ira Glasser
1. What is Free Speech?
Free speech is the right to say what you believe is true without fear of greater consequences than refutation and mockery. Free speech lets the powerless criticize the powerful.
The idea of free speech is at least 2500 years old. In 399 BC, when Socrates was tried for offending the rich, he said, “If you offered to let me off this time on condition I am not any longer to speak my mind… I should say to you, “Men of Athens, I shall obey the Gods rather than you.”
2. Is censorship something that only governments can do?
No. The ACLU explains,
Censorship, the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are “offensive,” happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others. Censorship can be carried out by the government as well as private pressure groups. Censorship by the government is unconstitutional.
3. Does free speech give you the right to slander, libel, or defraud?
No. Free speech does not give you the right to say what you do not believe. It does the opposite: it ensures you can say what you do believe. Free speech lets us defend ourselves because it gives us the right to charge people who say damaging things that they cannot prove, no matter how powerful those people might be.
4. Does free speech give you the right to harass people?
No. Free speech does not give you the right to force anyone to listen to you. That’s why, for example, it’s reasonable to limit the volume of public address systems.
5. Does free speech give you the right to threaten people?
No. Free speech does not give you the right to cause physical damage. Credible threats of danger are grounds to charge people with a crime, not because they are lying, but because they are announcing their honest intention to commit a crime.
6. Should employers be able to fire people for saying things off the job that offend them?