Posted by: Mike | June 27, 2008

Why Speech Is Not- And Should Not- Be Free

The death of George Carlin, the notoriously profane comedian, has brought a bit of life back into the issue of censorship in America. Those who oppose government censorship of media outlets argue that it suppresses freedom of speech, whereas those who support it often voice concerns about the exposure of children to profanity and the erosion of “decency” in modern society. The truth is, speech has never really been free in American society. Nor should it be. Imagine what would ensue if everyone in America was able to say what they wanted when they wanted. Neo- Nazis would be able to march through minority neighborhoods shrieking slurs at the top of their lungs. I hardly think that many Americans would put the right of Nazis to spew hatred above the need to prevent outbreaks of violence which would undoubtedly follow such a march.

If freedom of speech were truly absolute, such offenses as slander, libel, creation of a public disturbance, and even blackmail and threats would be completely legal. The problem is not whether speech should be “free”; it’s where to draw the line. For example, are the actions of the Westboros Baptist Church protected by the First Amendment? Those who argue that they are often say that, while the Church’s message is deplorable, banning them would set a bad precedent. I am inclined to reject this argument; the decision of where to draw the line regarding freedom of speech is inherently arbitrary. Therefore, precedent is not an overriding concern.

What does disturb me, though, is when censorship is extended beyond the preservation of “decency” and into the realm of political correctness. For example, an actress named Brigitte Bardot was recently fined by a French court for criticizing the inhumane slaughter of animals during an Islamic festival. Though parts of her criticism bordered on racism and xenophobia, the thought that a person could be fined 15,000 euros for making an incendiary statement is absurd. Americans must keep their guard up against the forces that would fuse political correctness with censorship. It is one thing to punish a wayward celebrity for exposing her breast during a Super Bowl halftime show. It is quite another thing to censor an individual for making a controversial statement on a touchy topic. And as always, the American public must decide where to draw the line.

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