Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. — The First Amendment
There always seems to be an awful lot of discussion about people’s First Amendment rights and freedom of speech being trampled on in the United States. But at the same time I wonder if people actually have read the First Amendment (see italicized text at the top).
The amendment says the government does not have the right to regulate what you say. That means your local council cannot pass a law saying we can’t have a protest on the steps of City Hall. What it doesn’t mean is that you can march into someone’s place of business and say whatever you want. You can be removed from private property.
In the online world, it means people can ban you from a website or message forum because of things you say, especially if you violate their terms of service. They’re not squashing your freedom of speech.
Think about it this way: If someone was in your living room and was saying some truly terrible things, wouldn’t you ask them to leave? Or would you not allow someone in your house who acts like that? It’s the same thing.
Also, people seem to think they can say whatever they want without repercussions. The First Amendment doesn’t say you can say anything and never have any repercussions. People are going to react to what you say and respond to you. They certainly cannot be violent because that would violate all sorts of other laws that could result in jail time. People may debate you and people may boycott you (your business, your website, your Twitter account) because of something you say. It happens, but it doesn’t mean anyone’s freedom of speech is being violated. People have just as much of a right to respond to what you’re saying in a variety of ways. Remember what Voltaire said:
I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.
Our forefathers wrote the Bill of Rights wanting us to have public debate. They wanted all sides of an issue to be aired. I had a professor in my undergraduate years at American University who said the Freedom of Speech allows people to find the kernel of truth in everything everyone says.
And that’s what the Freedom of Speech is about: uncovering the truth. That’s what open debate is supposed to bring, finding the truth and helping us move forward as a society.