Essay: Freedom of speech

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This essay is an original work by Philip J. Rayment. Please comment only on the talk page.

In this essay, I explain what I believe "freedom of speech" should mean. "Freedom of speech" is guaranteed in the United States Constitution, but is also a principle generally accepted by democracies. However, I'm explaining my views on what it should mean, not how it is understood by courts or other bodies.

Freedom of speech is often invoked in defence of offensive comments and works of art. At the other extreme, it is generally accepted that freedom of speech does not include a right to, quoting an oft-used example, yell "fire" in a crowded building that is not actually on fire. Various limits to what one is allowed to say are generally accepted, and include forbidding libel and slander, at least to some extent.

In my opinion, freedom of speech is applicable in discussing ideas, including expressing opinions, but is not reason to allow things to be said (or done) beyond that, if society finds those things offensive. So, in my opinion, freedom of speech...

  • ...gives one the right to argue that murder is acceptable, but does not give them the right to murder.
  • ...gives one the right to argue that abortion is okay, but does not give them the right to abort.
  • ...gives one the right to argue that some people are inferior to others (such as racism), but does not give them to right to treat or speak of others as inferior
  • ...gives one the right to argue that swearing is acceptable, but does not give them the right to swear.
  • ...gives one the right to argue that offensive works of art are acceptable, but does not give artists the right to produce or display offensive art.

Of course just because the freedom-of-speech principle does not give one these rights does not mean that we don't have such rights for other reasons. So freedom of speech...

  • ...gives one the right to argue that homeschooling is okay, but does not give one the right to homeschool. But in many jurisdictions that right exists anyway.

Some may wonder that I've included in the lists above actions that are not "speech", such as abortion. But the point is that the freedom-of-speech principle is the right to express (or argue) a view on something, whether that "something" is related to speech (e.g. swearing) or not. Further, it is clear that courts have taken the view that the principle is not confined just to speech, but any expression of one's views, whether speech, writing, artwork, or etc.

Freedom of speech is a principle applicable at the level of society. It does not extend to a home, for example. If you visit a friend, and he doesn't want you expressing a view on a topic in his home, then you have no right to do so.

Relating this to Conservapedia

Conservapedia is not a society, nor is it a home. Conservapedia has the right to restrict freedom of speech to exclude any discussion on any topic it chooses, and will likely exercise that right for non-family-friendly topics. However, beyond that, Conservapedia should not (and generally does not) restrict one from expressing a view and arguing a case on any topic, but will restrict someone from acting on that view, such as swearing, name-calling, etc.

Conservapedia also restricts one's freedom to discuss topics for more practical reasons, such as limiting the amount of discussion versus article-writing (the so-called 90/10 rule), but this is not a freedom-of-speech reason.

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