8th October 2011
Free speech is ABSOLUTE except for … (well, almost nothing)
A few days ago I summarised free speech thus: "freedom of speech must be ABSOLUTE except for libel, false statements, and incitement to violence. This is a fundamental principle of the free society" [Source]
A few other thoughts that support this view:
1. Free speech is an ABSOLUTE right in the USA:
voicing opposition to policies and advocating armed opposition to the State is protected free speech, and it is certainly not terrorism. As Glenn Greenwald, a journalist and former constitutional litigator explains,The government is absolutely barred by the Free Speech clause from punishing people even for advocating violence. That has been true since the Supreme Court’s unanimous 1969 decision in Brandenburg v. Ohio, which overturned the criminal conviction of a Ku Klux Klan leader who had publicly threatened violence against political officials in a speech.
The Supreme Court ruled that “except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action” — such as inciting a mob to burn down a house or hiring a hit man — “the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a state to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force.” [Source]
Btw, this article I cite above raises some very important matters re: the recent killing of an alleged American terrorist by the US government. Do read it in full here.
2. Extract on free speech from John Danford's Roots of Freedom:
What is most clearly outside the bounds of government regulation, according to Mill, is the realm of speech and opinion. The expression of mere opinions, Mill argues, can harm no one. The suppression of any point of view is unjustifiable because to suppress an opinion is to claim a monopoly on truth, which no one possesses. The power to control the expression of opinion, then, is illegitimate. “The best government has no more title to it than the worst,” Mill says. “lt is as noxious, or more noxious, when exerted in accordance with public opinion, than when in opposition to it. If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinon, mankind would beno more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”It is not merely unjust to suppress opinions but also unwise or even dangerous, according to Mill. “The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.” Thus there are two branches to his argument: “We can never be sure that the opinion we arc endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stiffing it would be an evil still.”Mill’s arguments for complete freedom of speech are probably the most famous portion of On Liberty, and are widely accepted in societies such as the United States, where the legal system in recent decades has refused to permit oven democratically elected legislatures to go very far in curtailing speech. including speech deemed offensive or obscene by a large majority. Of course, no freedom is absolutely without some limit, and, as Mill himself admitted, “even opinions lose their immunity when the circumstances in which they are expressed are such as to constitute their expression a positive instigation to some mischievous act. An opinion that corn-dealers are starvers of the poor, or that private property is robbery, ought to be unmolested when simply circulated through the press, but may justly incur punishment when delivered orally to an excited mob assembled before the house of a corn-dealer, or when handed about among the same mob in the form of a placard.” But of course speech in such a circumstance can readily he considered to be something other than mere words, and thus to fall into the category of action or conduct, which Mill concedes may be regulated by society.