Saturday, August 12, 2017

Shetterly's Free Speech FAQ

NOTE: This FAQ is about the principle of free speech. There's a little about the law, but if you want to research the legal limits of speech in the US, try the ACLU's Defending First Amendment Rights.

1. How old is the idea of free speech?

At least 2500 years old. In 399 BC, Socrates 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. Isn't censorship something that only a government can do?

No. From What Is Censorship? | American Civil Liberties Union:
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 a right to lie, slander, or engage in false advertising?

No. Free speech gives you the right to say what you believe. It does not give you the right to say what you do not believe. Lying cannot be defended as free speech.

4. Does free speech give you a right to harass or threaten people?

No. Free speech does not give you the right to make anyone listen to you, and it does not give you a right to hurt anyone. Credible threats of danger are grounds to have people arrested, not for speaking, but for promising to do harm.

5. What about illegal forms of pornography?

Free speech gives you the right to try to change laws, but it does not give you the right to break them.

While art is a form of speech, and pornography is a form of art, when we talk about illegal pornography, we’re talking about recordings that are evidence of crimes. Keeping those forms of pornography illegal is not about speech—it's about targeting the market that promotes the crime. The principle is no different than targeting people who pay for prostitutes, drugs, or contract killings.

If you don’t like those laws, use your free speech to try to change them. If the subject of illegal pornography becomes legal, the pornography will become legal too.

6. What about firing people for saying things that do not directly affect their job?

People should be fired because of their job performance. If companies need to address something an employee has said off the job, they only need to say, “The opinions of our employees are their own.”

7. What about protesters speaking out to silence speakers and intimidating venues into canceling their events?

If you don't want to hear people speak, don't go to their speeches. Preventing people from speaking is the opposite of free speech.

8. What about protesting speakers in ways that don't silence them?

Yes! Protest outside events, but don't block passage to them. Go to events wearing armbands or T-shirts that show you reject a speaker's message. When speakers take questions, point out the problems with their beliefs.

9. Does free speech mean we have to let everyone speak wherever they want?

No. Groups have a right to invite the speakers they want to hear. They have no obligation to invite people they don’t want to hear.

10. Doesn't free speech let us cancel a speaker's invitation to speak?

No. When Clark University invited Norman Finkelstein to speak, then canceled the speech in response to protesters, Sarah Wunsch of the ACLU wrote:
...the cancellation of his speech violates the basic principles of freedom of speech and academic freedom which are so fundamental to an institute of higher learning. The existence of an opportunity to speak at another time or in another location does not remedy the wrong of censorship. 
11. What about copyright?

Free speech does not give you a right to claim someone else's expression as your own or to use their expression as you please. Copyright laws vary from country to country—in order to be true to free speech, copyright laws must allow for Fair Use.

12. Isn't free speech used by the powerful to abuse the powerless?

Free speech lets the powerless speak. Without it, the weak will be silenced by the rich and powerful.

13. What about silencing people who oppose free speech?

Free speech belongs to everyone, including people who oppose it.


XKCD doesn't understand free speech—or the difference between legal and moral rights

Actually, what XKCD doesn't understand is that money is not speech (XKCD doesn't understand free speech, take 2):

Explaining free speech to XKCD, a cartoon

Frederick Douglass and Henry Louis Gates on free speech and hate speech

Socialist quotes for free speech

Two examples of the unexpected consequences of banning (pornography and swastika)

On responding to speech with violence, or why a coward in a mask is nothing like Captain America