Free Minds & Free Markets

5 Clichés Used to Attack Free Speech

Five terrible, perpetually recurring arguments, debunked.

We live in perilous times when it comes to free speech, and the threats are coming from both the left and right. The president has threatened legal action against the media, and progressive activists have used violence to shut down campus speakers they don't like.

In The Los Angeles Times, former federal prosecutor Ken White has some sharp insights on how to fight back against the would-be censors by shredding the most-popular clichés used by people trying to make the rest of us shut the hell up.

If today's calls for suppressing speech teaches us anything, it's that we can never take the First Amendment for granted. Even if the Supreme Court is on our side, free expression will only continue to exists if we're brave enough to make it ourselves.

Produced by Todd Krainin. Camera by Jim Epstein.

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Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Ron||

    Once again conflating President Trumps wanting to sue people for libel, which is both legal and a libertarian ideal of how things should work and the left that wants to silence opposing opinions.

  • Jerryskids||

    Shut up, you retarded goat-fucker. Trump doesn't want to sue people for libel, he wants to sue them for saying mean things about him that aren't true - which is not libel under the law. Like calling somebody a retarded goat-fucker.

  • Ron||

    If someone lies about another person is that not libel? BTW calling people names does not further arguments and I'm pretty sure If I can prove harm then I can sue you for that. Lies that harm can be libel.

  • Fred G. Sanford||

    You didn't understand his post, as evidenced by your comment about calling people names. And you don't appear to understand libel laws. Trump is not interested in truth but in intimidating people into silence by threats of lawsuits.

  • Quixote||

    Even setting aside the fact that the clip only presents four so-called clichés, it is pure baloney propaganda for this "free speech" nonsense we keep hearing about from naive liberals. Surely even Mr. White would not dare to defend the outrageous "First Amendment dissent" of a single, isolated, liberal judge in America's leading criminal "satire" case? Does he really believe such nonsense? If so, then he should remember that when you don't defend everyone's rights, you shouldn't be surprised when your own rights get trampled on with big black boots. See the documentation at:

  • DarrenM||

    So, who gets to decide what is libel and what is not? You?

  • chemjeff||

    I'll just leave this here

    If you think that this type of lawsuit is appropriate, then....

  • Ron||

    If someone lies and causes harm yes and has been promoted here many times as long as the loser pays all legal fees. the judge in this case decide no harm but its not the first time judges have been wrong.

  • WakaWaka||

    No it is not appropriate and the president has a history of frivolous litigation. And changing libel laws would be an abomination and a threat to free speech. At the same time, I don't recall any pending lawsuits existing or any actual proposals to change libel laws. But, I have seen an unending onslaught of an illiberal Left using violence against its political opponents.

    You cannot equate the two. Hypotheticals cannot be equated with actual events.

  • Ron||

    Free speech is not threatened but if you tell lies that do harm then you may have a problem. which is already the case. Has Trump used frivolous lawsuits yes but change the laws so that the loser pays all cost then the problem is solved.

  • Fred G. Sanford||

    There is already a method of making the loser pay all court costs. It is called an offer of judgment.

  • Jerryskids||

    All I know is that people who insist that words can be just as violent an attack as a physical assault should be punched repeatedly in the face.

  • JuanQPublic||

    Yes, it's deconstructionist horse manure.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Bailiff, whack his pee-pee!

  • SIV||

    Moar like Cuck White, amirite?

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Fact: Cuck White is a new breed of chicken that SIV has developed specifically for fuckin'.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Extra-wide cloaca, or extra-tight?

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Why do you assume that SIV is the top?

  • Hugh Akston||

    You just blew my mind.

  • MarkLastname||

    So instead it's extra wide or extra long?

  • JuanQPublic||

    An environment of primitive tribalism that lacks any principle is bad for free speech, as the tribalist's instinctive reaction is to shut the other tribe up, rather than actually *think* and form a counter argument to bad ideas.

    A real supporter of free speech supports the free speech of those with ideas they despise. Of course, tribalists will quickly and instinctively label this person as "supportive" of those ideas, because for them, it's all about turning your brain off and reducing the human intellect to the primitive whims of the animal kingdom.

  • Mickey Rat||

    When the idea being advanced is that it is good to initiate violence against people spreading "fascist" ideas and that such "anti-fascists" get to be judge and jury on just what qualifies as fascist ideas, then you have a corrupted enviroment for free speech. Especially if the authorities are indifferent to preventing such violence.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    "They decide and the shogun sings the song"

    which of course leads to

    "Meet the ned Boss, same as the old Boss."

  • WakaWaka||

    "The president has threatened legal action against the media, and progressive activists have used violence to shut down campus speakers they don't like."

    Only one of these two things has occurred the other is a fever dream. False equivalency much?

  • Zeb||

    Perhaps the point is that neither side is vigorously defending free speech. Saying both are bad doesn't have to mean they are equally bad right now.

  • WakaWaka||

    I'm sorry Zeb, but I don't agree with that. I've only seen one political party try to pass legislation to restrict the First Amendment by overturning the ruling in Citizens United and I only see one political party's supporters using violence because of imagined threats.

    There are good reasons to criticize Republicans on a lot of different topics (particularly with regards to immigration and police), but 'free speech' is not an issue that they are bad at, currently.

  • Shirley Knott||

    Riiight. Which party was it who came up with 'free speech zones'?
    Republicans have never (okay, over the last 100 years at least) been good on free speech.
    And yes, the president has threatened legal action against the media. Your 'rejoinder' that there's no legislation being considered is a non sequitur.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Is the concepts of libel and slander incompatible with free speech or is fraud unpunishable through civil action in your view? Because that is how Trump has threatened legal action against the media, a standard legal concept that has been around for quite awhile in co junction with free speech.

  • WakaWaka||

    Shirley, I appreciate you pushing The Nation's talking points, but is this the 1960's? Republicans are pushing 'free speech zones'? Put down the patchouli and get out in the 21st Century. This isn't your daddy's Democratic Party anymore

  • Azathoth!!||

    The left came up with 'free speech zones' you twit. They created them as places on campuses where one could exercise one's first amendment rights as the PC storm first started. The term was later used to refer to the areas protesters were allowed to be at the Democratic Presidential Convention in 2004.

    The president has suggested that our libel laws be revamped to make it easier to prove libel for people in the public eye--I.e. to give them the same burden of proof as non-celebrities.

    But, to date, he's actually done nothing about this

    While Republicans are, even now, lying in hospital beds after being shot for daring to say and think things the left doesn't want heard.

    The Left(and yes, that includes Democrats) has never been good on free speech. EVER. Even the vaunted 'Free Speech' movement was only the first attempt to put in place the mechanism whereby they could speak and no one would be allowed to speak in refutation of them.

  • Mithrandir||

    Counterpoint, the Republican party is the party that would typically be against flag-burning, which should fall under the purview of free speech.

  • WakaWaka||

    Good point and the president tweeted about that. But, I don't believe a bill has been voted on for over ten years.

  • Mithrandir||

    True. Every occasion a bill like that has passed it's been knocked back by the court systems fairly quickly.

  • WakaWaka||

    On the state level. There have been multiple federal efforts to pass a constitutional amendment and none of them have ever received the necessary amount of votes to be brought before the states. The last one was over ten years ago

  • Fred G. Sanford||

    Have you ever heard of John McCain?

  • Meeks||

    You make some good points, but I am wondering if you actually believe there are not any Republican party supporters using violence against "imagined threats" or to stop political speech or actions. There are probably what 50 million registered Republicans in our country? You don't think any of them have been engaging in political violence in the past year or so? Also - do you actually not think there are Republicans currently that are capable of political violence? I would imagine there are quite a few...just as there are in the Democrat party.

  • Daily Beatings||

    Brandenburg v. Ohio - Read it and weep proggies.

  • 9thGateKeeper||

    Libel/slander/defamation laws are always triggered _after_ an actionable event. Especially now with social media trails it's much easier to prove malice by jornos. Enforcing libel law is not abridging free speech.

    Jornos and editors take their chances treading in libel/slander/defamation territory; if content is proven factually true though they are in the clear without worry for libel.

    On the other hand the left's anti-free speech crusade currently applied _before_ speech or expression even occurs - is something completely different and clearly abridges free speech. The radical left goal is the complete suppression of all opposing thought and speech _regardless of factual truth._

    Remember 'ol England when you could loose your head simply for speaking _facts_ about the King? This is now the left's MO.

    The left total suppression of opposing thought and speech is not at all comparable to 'threatening media' with libel action.

  • Fred G. Sanford||

    To the contrary, threatening libel does prevent speech. It is a method of intimidation to scare journalists from reporting on a fact in the future. And it is frequently used by bullies like Lance Armstrong to hide the truth rather than prevent lies.

  • hello.||

    Truth is an absolute defense you fucking abject moron. No journalist ever has to worry about publishing true information. What they might have to worry about is reprinting press releases from activist groups with no sourcing and containing non-factual information. Free speech was never intended to allow journalists to lie with impunity.

  • DarrenM||

    You mean "lawfare"? The method pioneered and overwhelmingly exploited by the Left?

  • Jickerson||

    Enforcing libel law is not abridging free speech.

    How so? Punishing people for their speech is not abridging free speech? And the court decisions even require government thugs to enforce. If other people believe your lies, then they are the ones at fault, although unless they actually harm you in any tangible (physical) way, then there's nothing to be done about them either.

  • JohnBinCT||

    Do you get any benefit from forcing me to watch the video rather than embedding the text version of the transcript? It takes longer to watch, is less intelligible, and wastes bandwidth that in many jurisdictions may be capped.

  • Barbara Yarhead||

    "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...".

    The Constitution got it right the first time. While libel and slander laws are not unreasonable, I still don't support them.

    Does anyone truly support unlimited free speech anymore?

    Social customs can still be used to police some speech, but tolerance appears to be a shrinking position.

    While I can't stand Trump, I don't entirely disagree with his sentiment against protesters. He should have just said that he wouldn't be distressed if some of them were assaulted.

  • hello.||

    The constitution never guaranteed the right to lie about other people and damage their reputation or to misrepresent facts to the detriment of another person. Fraud and defamation have been offenses in common law for a fucking thousand years and have fuck all to do with free speech. You're still 100% free to defraud and defame others, but if they can show damages in court you might have to be responsible for your actions. That's what freedom actually means. It's accompanied by responsibility and accountability. But then you'd have an IQ higher than your shoe size to comprehend that.

  • Jickerson||

    Common law cannot override the Constitution. If they wanted exceptions for libel and slander, then they should have explicitly listed them.

    Fraud and defamation have been offenses in common law for a fucking thousand years and have fuck all to do with free speech.

    Well, it certainly is speech, and I see nowhere in the Constitution that says the government (through the court system, by enforcing decisions) can punish you for this type of speech. I guess it's just one of those 'implied' things, much like the mysterious social contract. If the founding fathers screwed up, too bad.

    but if they can show damages in court you might have to be responsible for your actions.

    The "damages" - if they exist at all - are entirely the result of other people's responses to your speech, making it their problem. But if the "damages" are merely that people stop doing business with you, then there are no real damages, since you're not entitled to other people's business. The solution is to stop believing everything you hear and wait for evidence, and for other people to do the same. Can't do that? Too bad.

    It's accompanied by responsibility and accountability.

    What vague nonsense. The entire point of free speech is that the government can't punish you for what you say. This isn't suddenly made okay because someone is suing you and the courts make a decision.

  • Ned Netterville||

    The Federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the government's permanent injunction banning Irwin Schiff from selling his book, THE FEDERAL MAFIA: HOW IT ILLEGALLY IMPOSES AND UNLAWFULLY COLLECTS INCOME TAXES. The theme of the book about the IRS is evident in the title. Schiff's compelling arguments for his position were so persuasive that many American taxpayers believed what he was saying and stopped paying the federal tax. Not only did the government ban him from selling his book, in a demonstrably kangaroo trial, the feds prosecuted him on a bunch of trumped up charges, the judge prevented him from mounting a defense, and sentenced him to 14 years in prison, which proved to be a life sentence when he died there from a treatable cancer the prison did not effectively treat. Don't anyone ever believe the U.S. federal government will protect speech that threatens to impede its tax revenue. It won't protect it; it will demolish it.

  • Principal Spittle||

    Absolutely right!
    Many people forget that government is an entity that behaves according to market forces like any other, one with monopoly control of violence and theft. It is not a tyrannical president or the hurt feelings of college students that is the threat to liberty but the batrachain beast at the center of the swamp who will use every scrap of power we give it to grow and defend itself.

  • Bucinka||

    The seven words were shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits.


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