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Should there be any restrictions on free speech ?

for example here are one the comments my friends have made on the topic:

"Whilst people are free to speak their opinion, they are not free of the consequences, and those consequences are that they may offend some people, so there must be an element of respect and empathy in exercising our freedom of speech in a responsible manner."

My personal opinion on this matter is that speech that urges terrorist violence to an audience should be punished.

What are your thoughts on this ?

asked Oct 06 '10 at 21:20

Michael's gravatar image


edited Oct 07 '10 at 07:47

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

Be very careful about how you word your questions or how you let others word questions they put to you. By ever lending credibility to a "yes but..." mode of thinking you are opening the door to pragmatism and undercutting the existence of rights as absolutes. What you especially have to watch out for is not to slip into or be lulled into accepting the idea of rights as out-of-context absolutes. Remember that part of the context of rights is the entirety of those rights as a unified whole, that there is no such thing as a right to violate rights. It is never that such-and-such right has to be restricted, only that the whole context for a right must be properly considered, when the implementation of a right is to be examined.

For the matter at hand, the right to free speech means the right to say, publish or otherwise disseminate any matter except in a manner that violates others' rights, ie where the action involved constitutes a use of force as Martin pointed out. In this light it should be clear that criminalising falsely yelling "FIRE!" in a crowded theatre etc or criminalising fraudulent representations in trade negotiations are no more restrictions on the right to free speech than criminalising riot or theft is restriction on the right to liberty.

There is, also no right not to be offended. Merely having someone's flaws pointed out to them or their deepest-held values challenged does not make that someone a victim of force. It is the very fact that such people want to use force to shut down such speech that makes them wrong, and it is the deliberate use of fear to enforce silence is precisely what makes them specifically terrorists. Yet it is not their simple expression of these flawed beliefs and values that is their crime - so long as they don't violate noise ordinances or barge their way into meeting halls or radio stations etc, they too are within their rights to speak of their beliefs. That is speech, and is to be protected as such. But actively commanding someone to commit a crime is to be accessory to the crime itself and not at all within the ambit of freedom of speech.

answered Oct 08 '10 at 22:32

JJMcVey's gravatar image

JJMcVey ♦

edited Oct 09 '10 at 00:49


so rights are contextual absolutes then

(Oct 09 '10 at 00:50) Michael Michael's gravatar image

Yes, they are.

(Oct 09 '10 at 09:09) JJMcVey ♦ JJMcVey's gravatar image

Jefferson and a number of others had it right, the USA was the first nation in which citizens gave the government specific powers rather than the government allowing specific freedoms. We are in an era in which our government seeks to extend its powers over us. Speech freedom is the one that is at the foundation of all else. To allow our government to control offensive speech is possibly the most dangerous step we can allow.

(Oct 10 '10 at 10:00) ethwc ♦ ethwc's gravatar image
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The general principle regarding what speech is protected and what is not is whether your speech amounts to a credible danger to others. "Fire!" in a crowded theater is one way to endanger people. Inciting a crowd to violence ("Let's go kill Whatshisname!") is another. But if what you say doesn't amount to such an assault on others, it should be protected.

The government has no business protecting peoples feelings. Free speech means being free to disagree with others, and even to speak disrespectfully of them. It is the right to make people unhappy with what you say, without fear of physical reprisal.

answered Oct 08 '10 at 23:58

John%20Paquette's gravatar image

John Paquette ♦

edited Oct 09 '10 at 00:14

My view is that the "clear and present danger" standard put forth by Oliver Wendall Holmes is too vague. In my view, the standard should be "material participation." In other words, it is only when an act of speech becomes participation in an act of physical force that it should be considered to violate freedom.

By the way, in my doctoral dissertation I argued that John Stuart Mill re-defined liberty in a radical way. I regard him as the greatest enemy of freedom, including freedom of speech, since Immanuel Kant. The details aren't important here, but I would recommend lovers of liberty to avoid quoting from J.S. Mill.

answered Oct 14 '10 at 03:57

Robert%20Garmong's gravatar image

Robert Garmong ♦

Yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theatre is not a matter of speech at all, it is an act of criminal mischief that happens to be vocal. There is no expression of belief or ideation involved. It is a conceptual error, I believe, and philosophically dangerous not to observe this distinction, because the idea that speech may constitute the initiation of force is of the greatest import.

answered Jan 05 '11 at 20:12

Mindy%20Newton's gravatar image

Mindy Newton ♦


The only acceptable limit on free speech is when speech crosses the line and becomes an initiation of force, like yelling "Fire" in a crowded theater.

Other than that there can be no limit on Free Speech or you no longer have it. Most people are respectful in their speech, but that is no reason to demand that everyone MUST be respectful in their speech.

To use the ideal that speech like advocating terrorism should be punished is to give credence to the idea that some speech is so powerful that it clouds our judgment and therefore can not be tolerated. Or to put it another way, that people are so weak minded that mere words are enough to make them act irrationally.

JS Mill encapsulated the ideal of free speech in his work On Liberty when he said;

If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.

answered Oct 07 '10 at 07:39

Martin%20Gasser's gravatar image

Martin Gasser ♦

it seems that we all equally have the freedom to take offence. How far we take this freedom to be offended is often the real issue.We see all too often that the consequences therefore may be out of proportion to the offence. Would you agree or disagree on this point

(Oct 07 '10 at 07:48) Michael Michael's gravatar image

Our freedom to be offended can never trump the right of someone to free speech. Offence just like speech can never legitimately cross the line into force.

(Oct 07 '10 at 09:36) Martin Gasser ♦ Martin%20Gasser's gravatar image

could you shutdown free speech because it causes racial disharmony?

(Oct 11 '10 at 05:19) Michael Michael's gravatar image

No. So long as there are no actual exhortations to use of force, people have the right to say that they will.

Let questions by honest but naive or superficial people be asked and answered, lest the concerns be internalised and automatised as undesirable emotional reactions.

And let racist pricks, unwilling to challenge their emotions, their judgements, and their standards of value, be free to demonstrate themselves for what they are so that we may know them and shun them thereafter.

(Oct 11 '10 at 06:11) JJMcVey ♦ JJMcVey's gravatar image

How can one be offended by a speech that was not directed at them? For instance the Muhmmad cartoons, it was published in a news paper. One does not need to read that news paper, or better yet look at that particular page.

I think free speech can be restricted if it results in harassment, for instance if I knock on your door every hour, to tell you that your garden is ugly. But then the crime is "harassment" not the words themselves.

So I am sorry, words can never cause harm. And if they do, who will decide which words are harmful.

(Oct 02 '12 at 03:19) Moo Moo's gravatar image
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Asked: Oct 06 '10 at 21:20

Seen: 5,909 times

Last updated: Oct 02 '12 at 03:19