Thursday, October 7, 2010

How Free Is Free Speech?

As you may be aware, the universally-despised nutcases from the Westboro Baptist Church are defending their right to free speech before the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, over at FPR, Mr Fox suggests that maybe we should restrict this particular sort of free speech, even though we all admit that the only harm it causes is to make some people who are already having a bad day — viz., the bereaved family of a dead soldier — have a rather worse day.

It's true that I've always felt a bit uncomfortable around die-hard 1st-Amendment supporters; perhaps that's because I've never felt the inclination to express anything that anybody would care to stop me from saying. But at the same time, it seems a bit ominous to restrict the exercise of free speech when it has no deleterious effect on anybody's well-being (except feelings, which the law rarely takes into account), or even on anyone's reputation (as libel and slander might).

Ought we to fight to the death — like Voltaire is said to have proposed — for the right of these deluded, hateful people to say what they want? Or are some things simply not worth fighting for?

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