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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.

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  • esteve7||

    Free speech is under attack by those who do not believe in freedom. It's just a tool to oppress people. Why would you want to defend racists and hate mongers and etc???

    These petty tyrants are perfectly happy with shouting down opposing viewpoints because they can't win an argument using logic and reason. Just look at evergreen where they are eating their own

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Ever notice how even Hitler, Stalin, Mao, kings of old, despots everywhere, invariably enact decrees legalizing their despotic actions before they take the despotic actions? You might argue that Hitler, for instance, had just won a shaky election and had to dress it up while he consolidated power. But the Nazis kept on passing sham legislation to legitimize their subsequent actions. Stalin had taken power without an election, and still followed various rituals to look legal.

    And thus appearances do matter to these despots, these free-speech deniers, and not just to fool other legislators in voting for their nonsense. They really do want that stamp of approval from lawyers, judges, and legislatures.

    If nothing else, putting roadblocks and legal obstacles in their path does slow them down, does force them to use resources in side battles, and does force their shaky arguments out into the open, where they might rather have a little less publicity and rebuttal and refutation. They'd rather not have to get into details on their plans; but if you can force them to explain themselves just a little, that's more ammunition, more leverage, more cracks in the wall.

  • mtrueman||

    "But the Nazis kept on passing sham legislation to legitimize their subsequent actions. "

    All their most shameful acts were done under a cloak of secrecy. As for legislation, the Nazis never even got around to revoking the notoriously Liberal Weimar constitution. It was the allies who did that, after the war.

    "and does force their shaky arguments out into the open, where they might rather have a little less publicity and rebuttal and refutation. "

    You have no idea what you're up against, do you?

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Even the most secret acts were still under fig leaf cover of legality. That's my point.

    If you are so into black and white that you can't see any gray edges, then you are the naive ignoramus.

  • mtrueman||

    "Even the most secret acts were still under fig leaf cover of legality. "

    I think you are giving them too much credit. There were no Nazi laws to legalize the mass murder of civilians. The Nazis didn't even have a clear line between government, state and party.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Hitler never won an election as an elected official. The NAZI party won seats in the Reichstag based on a 37.3% democratic vote and soon after Hindenburg appointed Hitler Chancellor.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    That's quibbling. My point is that he didn't take over by force of arms, but by following the current political legal process.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I agree with much of what you were commenting about. I think that free speech protections does slow these tyrants down a little bit. I would even add that people who attack free speech, clearly expose themselves as looking for ways to silence dissent and that is a huge red flag for us Libertarians.

    I just wanted to correct the point that was elected into power because technically he was not. The Nazi Party did use force of arms to cause chaos on the streets of Wiemar Germany, which helped get the Nazi Party elected to seats in the Reichstag.

    Tyrants in history sometimes have a unique weasely way of gaining power.

  • Mickey Rat||

    That is how parliamentary democracies work. A plurality party can form a government with their leader at the head because no other coalition can form a government. That us also one rezdon the Nazis had to be more circumsoect in the early years of their government.

  • albo||

    BREAKING:

    the supremes ruled that trademark denial for disparagement is unconstitutional on free speech grounds. great shot by Alito:

    It is thus far-fetched to suggest that the content of a registered mark is government speech, especially given the fact that if trademarks become government speech when they are registered, the Federal Government is babbling prodigiously and incoherently.

  • Liberty =><= Equality||

    Free Speech Is Always Under Attack. Here's How To Fight For It.
    Combating repressive, anti-free-speech cliches just got a little easier.

    Terribly misleading headline. I don't see any tips on how to fight for free speech or evidence for it becoming easier.

    I hope Nick is not deluded enough to think his tepid little video of complaining about anti-speech fallacies achieves either objective. Logical people have railed against logical fallacies for millennia, yet they are strong as ever.

  • Bra Ket||

    Maybe he means we're supposed to blog about it as he has done.

  • Liberty =><= Equality||

    Now taking bets: Trump supporter or honor killing?

    Police say a female was found dead Sunday after a 17-year-old girl went missing earlier in the day.

    Investigators say they believe it is the teen who was found deceased.

    Fairfax County Police say early in the morning, the teen was walking with friends from a Herndon mosque when she got into a dispute with a male driver. Friends say the man got out and assaulted the girl.
  • lap83||

    Why not both?

  • Tom Bombadil||

    "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."

    While I agree with Reason's position that Carter did not commit a crime, for other reasons... the words above could be a strong argument of the opposite position.

    A surgeon's botched procedure is not a literal weapon, nor is a car.
    In all the cases cited, "accidents" happened.
    In Carter's case, her intent was to cause the guy's death.
    In could be argued that her actions, being more malicious, should carry a heavier penalty.

  • ||

    The Trudeau Liberals in Canada are doing their part to quell freedom of speech and expression.

  • Tom Bombadil||

    Are you referring to the legislature there is on the verge of making it a hate crime to refer to someone by the "wrong" gender pronoun? Wild, weird stuff.

  • Chipper Morning, Now #1||

  • AlmightyJB||

    Funny. Sounds a little like Beetlejuice. Oh wow. My auto spell can't do simple words worth a shit but it gets Beetlejuice right.

  • Brandybuck||

    Dammit, you just ordered another case of soda for me!

  • Domestic Dissident||

    Looks like Reason's beloved Islamonazis have struck in the U.K. yet again.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    Oh, Mikey.

  • WakaWaka||

    It wasn't Islamists this time. Good example of why we should not jump to conclusions or label whole classes of people.

  • WakaWaka||

    Oh please, tell me more about how important free speech is, publication that employees people that excuse violence against speech.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Here's what I don't get. You're trying to make logical arguments to people who are not remotely logical. How is that supposed to work?

  • Vapourwear||

    Holy cow, there's a lot of words missing in this one.

  • maddarter||

    The Carter case is very difficult, and I am conflicted (as were others at our Father's Day cookout). But you coverage suggesting it was "one reckless text" grossly understates the evidence, and dis-serves your readers. She used her friendship with a disturbed young man to repeatedly encourage to kill himself, which he ended up doing through carbon monoxide in a car. Just before taking his life, he wanted to back out and got out of the car; she texted him to get back in the car. Why? She wanted the attention and sympathy of a grieving girlfriend.

    One can spin related scenarios -- what if it were for a $100k insurance policy? what if she repeatedly told a delusional person he needed to kill his neighbor before the neighbor killed him? what if she had been in a more formal counseling role? Reasonable people can certainly think this is a bad precedent, but please do not trivialize a hard case.

  • albo||

    The First Amendment is America's greatest gift to the world. Besides Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

  • Brandybuck||

    I've said before that the progressive left is every bit as socially conservative as the religious right. They just want to control different things. The thought processes are the same.

    My mother, the arch-social conservative, doesn't want to throw gays in jail, she just says "But it's wrong! It's not right!" And my favorite, "It shouldn't be that way."

    But that's the EXACT SAME THOUGHT PROCESS of the progressive left!!!

    The progressives don't want to limit free speech, they don't want cops arresting people who disagree with this, they don't want jail terms for contrarian profressors, but... "They shouldn't say that! It's not right! It shouldn't be that way!"

  • Azathoth!!||

    The progressives DO want to limit free speech, they DO want people jailed for disagreeing with this, and they DO want penalties up to and including death for disagreeing with them.

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