Freedom of Speech 101

I’ve written about freedom of speech on several occasions, but apparently it’s time to do so again, as I’ve read that my tale about the Pig and the Bunny and the word “retarded” advocates censorship.

I don’t want to pick on the individual who raised this point, because he’s not alone. The reason I had the third wolf reply, “You can’t tell me what to say. I have freedom of speech!” is because this response is in fact rather common. (Often, but not always, coming hand-in-hand with a slam on “political correctness.”)

Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech. (It should be noted that I’m talking about this issue from a U.S. perspective. Laws and ideas about freedom of speech vary widely from one nation to another.)

So here’s the thing. You have the right to say that Jim C. Hines is a condescending asswipe. I support your right to say that, and I would oppose any legislation that tried to take away that right.

But if you say it to my face, I’ll ask you to stop. Or maybe I’ll walk away and talk to someone else. If you come onto my blog and post it as a comment, I might delete your comment and boot you off of my site. Or maybe I’ll just mock you.

None of those things in any way restrict or take away your freedom of speech.

If you read Yo Is This Racist, you’ll find a lot of questions about white folks wanting permission to use the word “nigger.” There are people who get really upset, not about racism, but about the fact that we as white people aren’t allowed to use that one word. To paraphrase Khan, it tasks us. It tasks us, and we shall have it!

Well guess what. As it turns out, we do have the right to use that word. Yay us!

And the rest of the world has the right to call us racist, ignorant shits if we choose to to use it.

Hey look at that, freedom of speech goes both ways. Who knew?

You have the right to use the word “retarded,” too. And I recognize that we often use words unthinkingly. But people also have the right to ask you not to use it.

What I don’t have is the legal means to force you to stop using that word. After hearing someone say, “This word is hurtful to me and to others,” you can choose to keep using it. And that’s as it should be.

I’ll lose respect for you if you make that choice. I may tell you what I think about you continuing to use that word. I might mock you for it. If you’re a business, I might stop giving you money. If you’re an author, I might stop reading your books.

That’s my choice.

This is from a blog post I wrote back in 2009. (Is it egotistical to quote yourself? Oh well…):

Freedom of speech does not protect you from the consequences of saying stupid shit.

Freedom of speech is hard. It’s messy. Sometimes it’s ugly. But freedom of speech does not mean freedom from responsibility. Nor does freedom of speech obligate me to agree with your words, or to provide them with a platform.

Any questions?