Free Speech

Free Speech Is Always Under Attack. Here's How To Fight For It.

Combating repressive, anti-free-speech cliches just got a little easier.


On Friday, Todd Krainin and I posted a video rebutting popular cliches that are used to attack free speech. The video is based on a powerful piece in The Los Angeles Times by lawyer and blogger Ken White of Popehat.

In the short time the video went live, other stories have emerged that underscore how free speech is always under attack and in need of defending. Check out Matt Welch's post about a recent Vice documentary about the situation at Evergreen State College, where a progressive professor came under attack for criticizing a "Day of Absence" during which whites would not be welcome campus. From Welch's post:

This piece came out concurrently with a big Commentarysymposium (to which I contributed) on whether free speech is under threat in the United States. My bottom line: "But in this very strength [of recent Supreme Court protections] lies what might be the First Amendment's most worrying vulnerability. Barry Friedman, in his 2009 book The Will of the People, made the persuasive argument that the Supreme Court typically ratifies, post facto, where public opinion has already shifted. Today's culture of free speech could be tomorrow's legal framework. If so, we're in trouble."

Threats to speech often come from strange quarters. Consider the sentence given to Michelle Carter, a Massachussetts teen found guilty of involuntary manslaughter after texting her suicidal boyfriend, Conrad Roy, that he should kill himself. As Sarah Siskind wrote at Reason:

Carter's punishment does not fit the crime. Involuntary manslaughter is a conviction for a negligent surgeon, for an abusive husband who unintentionally kills his spouse, for a drunk driver who accidentally runs someone down. A reckless text is not a reckless, swerving car. Words are not literal weapons, and the moral turpitude of Carter's comments does not change that.

Writing about the same case in The New York Times, Reason's Robby Soave argues:

For decades, efforts have been underway to criminalize every obnoxious or problematic social interaction between K-12 kids in American schools. Hardly a week passes without a national news story about teenagers who were arrested on child pornography charges — and face unfathomably long prison sentences — because they had inappropriate pictures of classmates (or even themselves) on their phones. In Iowa, in June 2016, authorities tried to brand a 14-year-old girl as a sex offender for Snapchatting while wearing a sports bra and boy shorts. The following month, Minnesota police officers busted a 17-year-old for swapping consensual sexts with his 16-year-old girlfriend. Such matters should be handled by parents and teachers, not the cops. The same is true for the various issues that plagued Ms. Carter and Mr. Roy.

Free speech is at the center of a free society. Without it, virtually all other freedom is strictly curtailed, if not literally unimaginable. Pick any three days to follow and you will likely find multiple attacks on the concept of free and open expression. Even on Sunday, there's no rest for those of us who want to live in libertarian world.