winston churchill

^ freedom of speech includes the duty to accept being outraged

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We support the principle commonly referred to as free speech. As a publication devoted to opinion, including on controversial, political matters, it’s part of our mission to speak freely. That’s a given. Now it’s time to explain to you what we at Here and Sphere mean by “free speech.”

The phrase excerpts from the Constitution’s First Amendment, which includes the following : Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Few of us do not know these words. Most of us also know that the Fourteenth Amendment applies the First’s precepts (and others) to the States as well, so that no jurisdiction in our nation is permitted to abridge “the freedom of speech or of the press.”

The question then arises: “Granted that no governmental body in America can restrict freedom of speech or of the press, but what about private individuals, or corporations, or any other entity ? Can these abridge free speech ?” To which we say the following:

( 1 ) everyone is guaranteed the right to speak freely, or to publish to the public, whatever opinion he or she likes. It makes no d9iffrerence whether we who hear the speech or read the writing like what we hear or read. We may be offended by it : no matter. It may anger us : that too makes no difference. The answer to speech we do not like is to speak in  opposition.

( 2 ) we oppose all manner of abridgement of speaking or publishing freely. Those who seek to shut down a speech or condemn a publication cannot be allowed to do so. We can think of no exceptions other than the extremely limited ones set forth in libel law and slander — and such cases must be proved in a court of law — or incitement to a criminal act (and that incitement must be explicit, immediate, and intentional).

( 3 ) we oppose the concept of “safe spaces” by which an institution or organization accords certain people a zone within which no one is allowed to speak or publish matters which the space seeker finds offensive. People must accept that being offended is a regular part of living in a diverse society in which a multitude of competing opinions is said and printed.

Recently we have seen so-called “free speech rallies” organized by groups of people on the political far right who hold extremely unpopular opinions. I’m not convinced that the organizers’ purpose is to promote freedom of speech — more likely they seek to attract attention, from the media first of all — but their purpose does not matter. Their right to speak is fully protected, as is their right to assemble, to march, to carry flags and torches and to shout.

Our right to oppose such speech, marching, shouting, etc. is equally protected by the First Amendment and the 14th. We too can speak, march, carry flags and shout. What we CANNOT do — not can they — is to intimidate, threaten, or attack the speakers, etc. who we oppose. There has certain been some of that recently. We are not cool with any of that.

Far too often today the dishonest example of talk show radio dominates public speech. we must remember that talk show hosts say outrageous stuff, offensive stuff, to evoke a reaction and thus to increase their listenership and thereby generate ad revenue. The talk show shtick is nothing but a con, a money fraud induced by network owners who want their talk shows to become ever more outrageous because that is what generates the most ad dollars. But if these networks’ purpose is patent, the readiness of some to accept the stuff being said as truth, or as worthy for its own sake is as unworthy as it gets. Peopled must grasp that what is freely said or published is not true, or even half true, simply because it is said on the radio.

In other words, the freedom with which what is said is said has nothing at all to tell us about how true it is.

People are free to lie. The consequences of lying are, or should be, enormous : but these are social sanctions, not legal ones except in the case of false accusation.

I believe it was John Adams who said that the participatory democracy he and his fellows were creating required a morally disciplined, informed public if it was to live long. He was right. The freedom of speech is not only a right protected, it imposes on us  a duty, or, should I say, a host of duties : to restrain our passions; to defend our opponents’ rights; to deliberate — is what is being said to us true or worthy ? or not? — before we respond; to understand that our primary mission as speakers of free speech is to defend the right itself. Because what we speak freely is here and gone: but the right to speak it, freely and without fear of intimidation or sanction, is forever — is not merely about ourselves and what makes us feel good today.

The freedoms protected by the First Amendment and the 14th are personal to each one of us and at the same time universal to the nation as a whole, today, tomorrow, and into the future, to which we who speak and publish owe a responsibility that has a name of its own : citizenship.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here nad Sphere


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