I’m very excited to finally get to meet Sheila Kennedy, an active reader of this blog, when we appear together at the CFI of Northeast Ohio conference on Oct. 6. And even more so after reading this post on her website about an exchange in one of the courses she teaches:
Monday night, a student in my Law and Public Affairs class asked a question I get every so often. We were talking about free speech, and she wanted to know whether the right to say one’s piece extended to speech that “offended” people. It was pretty clear that she expected some variation of “well, no, there are limits.”
As I explained to her, among our cherished American rights, one that we don’t have is the right not to be offended. A right to expression that could be trumped by someone’s hurt feelings–or by a government concerned about someone’s hurt feelings–would not be a right at all.
I know Michael Heath hates it when I say that no one has a right not to be offended, but I think it’s mostly because he misunderstands what is clearly meant by those words. It doesn’t mean no one can be offended, it means that no one has a right to have the government punish or censor someone merely because they are offended by someone else’s expressed views. This is not a clash of two rights; the second is not a right at all.