Do You Really Support Freedom of Speech?

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” (Attributed to, but not actually said by Voltaire)

Richard Wade here.

With all the recent controversy over billboards, I thought it might be a good time to reflect on our own attitudes toward freedom of speech. This “Fear God” billboard has been up in my home town in Southern California for many months. As far as I can find out, there have been no complaints. A half hour’s drive away in Rancho Cucamonga, as you have read, the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s “Imagine No Religion” billboard (inset) was taken down after only a few days. The City Council has denied reports that they pressured the billboard company to take it down, but they still claimed that City Hall had received “90 complaints.” Regardless of who is responsible in this case, one point of view is free to express while another is frequently censored.

Apparently, freedom of speech is not for everyone but is determined by majority vote on a case-by-case basis. Apparently only ninety “votes” are needed to overthrow the First Amendment and cancel someone’s liberty.

When asked, most Americans will say they believe in free speech, but when they hear or read an opinion that offends their views or beliefs, sadly many are either glad or apathetic if that opinion gets unconstitutionally suppressed. If you say you believe in free speech, then here’s a test, a chance to look into your heart and see if that is really true:

Imagine that the sign shown below proclaims a message that is offensive to your opinion, is the opposite of your opinion or attacks your opinion. Pick something that would really anger you. Then imagine that the local government and/or the advertising company decide to take down the sign before the date agreed upon, simply because it offends them or it offends many people in the community, including you.

Do you respond by:

A) publicly demonstrating to support the removal of the sign?

B) approving of the removal in a letter or email to the local paper, the local government and/or the billboard company?

C) doing nothing? (talking only on a blog comes close to doing nothing)

D) disapproving of the removal in a letter or email to the local paper, the local government and/or the billboard company regardless of your difference in opinion?

E) publicly demonstrating against the removal of the sign and insisting that free speech must be upheld regardless of your difference in opinion?

If your honest-to-your-inner-heart answer is A, B, or C, then you do not believe in freedom of speech. Your values are reflected by what you actually do in real situations, not by what you say in a hypothetical chat over a cup of coffee when nothing is on the line.

If it is acceptable to you for another’s freedom of speech to be stifled, then that includes your own freedom of speech. If the minority opinion, the unpopular opinion does not have the exact same guarantee of free expression then your opinion will eventually be forbidden as well. You’re only enjoying being in the majority opinion for the time being. The tyranny of the majority tends to increasingly demand conformity. Sooner or later you will have an opinion in the minority, the vote won’t go your way and you will be gagged.

Excuse me, I have to shout here:

EVERY SINGLE MAJORITY VIEW IN SOCIETY TODAY WAS ONCE A MINORITY VIEW WHEN IT WAS FIRST PROPOSED. EVERY WELL-ACCEPTED IDEA OF TODAY WAS CONSIDERED A HARE-BRAINED, CRAZY AND DANGEROUS IDEA WHEN IT WAS FIRST THOUGHT UP. EVERY MAINSTREAM RELIGION OR SCHOOL OF THOUGHT WAS ONCE SEEN AS A SUBVERSIVE, EVIL CULT AT ITS INCEPTION.

(Ahem.) If your sincere answer was D or much better E, then you do believe in freedom of speech.

It is ironic that the freedom of speech that the majority takes for granted is protected by a minority. Only a few people have the maturity and courage to follow Voltaire’s principle of defending even unto death the right of someone to disagree with them.

About Richard Wade

Richard Wade is a retired Marriage and Family Therapist living in California.

  • Ex Partiot

    It appears that freedom of speech s ok for the relgious but not for us who do not believe in some sky fairy and his zombie so called son, both of which are nothing more than mythology

  • http://non-theist.com Josh Nankivel

    Well said, Richard. Even though I disagree with you, I defend your right to speak your mind. (Just kidding, I agree with you too!)

    Seriously though, I live in South Dakota and there are many religiously-themed billboards up at any given time. I have grappled with this question many times before, and it didn’t take long for me to realize that they have every right to advertise “Finding your place in God’s world”, etc. I look up to the ACLU when they offer services to groups who they may not agree with.

    The primary thing I find troubling is the fact that mostly churches are paying for these, and they are tax-exempt, which in effect makes my tax dollars subsidize the billboard they are using to advertise.

    Josh Nankivel
    http://non-theist.com

  • PrimeNumbers

    Yes, religions are businesses and should be treated as such when it comes to taxation, or, in effect, us non-believers are subsidising their private club / business.

  • Don Sinclair

    Suppose this hypothetical billboard expressed a viewpoint that might incite violence? Would you still express disapointment if a billboard quoting Leviticus 20:13 was taken down?

  • Alex

    While I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment of what you have said, I have never been fully comfortable with a “fight to the death” for another point of view. By all means, campaign vigorously to keep free speech, but to die for another’s idea is probably not going to be the wisest choice in all situations. The other idea could be a truly dangerous one – more dangerous than a curtailing of free speech – that may be bolstered beyond necessity by the martyrdom of the unaffiliated. Plus, once you’re dead, you can’t do much to further defend free speech and your own ideas.

  • http://thebitchreport.blogspot.com/ Milena

    I think you missed one action that can be undertaken. One can protest the sign, without actually asking for its removal. For example, when Canada’s biggest pro-life rally came to Ottawa last year, I went to the counter-protest. I wasn’t asking for the pro-lifers to be shut up or kicked out, but I was expressing my opposing point of view. This is also part of free speech. In defending someone else’s freedom of expression, we shouldn’t neglect our own.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com hoverFrog

    Don’t I also have a freedom of speech to say I find the “FEAR GOD” sign disgusting and harebrained and I wish that it were taken down? Or even the FFRF sign if I were that way inclined? In a society that values freedom of speech I get to disagree with others all the time in the safe knowledge that I have the right to do so. My views will not be censored until they reach a point where they incite violence or promote hatred so “Crucify Christians” would be out.

    It is through disagreement and public debate that views are expressed and altered. If I “win” because my view is upheld and the opposing view is retracted then isn’t this proof that the democratic exchange of views works. I cannot know if I win a battle of ideas if my opponent’s view is censored. I want opposing views to be aired so that I can challenge them and get people to retract them or just laugh at them.

    What censoring an opposing view does is reinforce it. “We can’t even talk about it” is the call of a martyr and you don’t want to grant the status of martyr to those you disagree with.

  • http://blueollie.wordpress.com ollie

    actually, I believe that an appropriate reaction to a billboard that I find disgusting is to speak out against it. Yes, I am entitled to free speech too.

    Example: if that billboard had a KKK or neo-nazi message, I would speak out against it. And yes, I would let businesses know that if they sponsored this, they wouldn’t have my business, and I would write letters to the editor condemning the message.

    On the other hand, if a bill came up that would make it illegal to put up those kind of billboards I would lobby my representative to vote NO on such a bill.

    Just because someone has the right to say something does not mean that they have the right to have me as a captive audience for their message.

  • TheDeadEye

    So according to your logic, if I don’t actively write letters or participate in Gay Pride rallies/marches, then I don’t really ‘believe’ in Gay rights? Hogwash.

    I think you are confusing ‘belief’ with ‘support’. I believe in Gay rights, but I don’t actively support it (other than telling people that I believe in Gay rights).

  • Mathew Wilder

    If a billboard company takes down a sign because of complaints, that is in no way unconstitutional. And while demonstrating in support of removal would show a lack of belief in free speech if the removal was being done, or asking to be done, at government command, it is free speech to demonstrate one’s disapproval to influence the billboard company to remove the sign.

    I don’t think you would disagree, but I thought it was worth clarifying.

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  • http://www.sheeptoshawl.com writerdd

    Sorry but “do nothing” also shows belief in freedom of speech.

    There are lots of things people say, write, and advertise that I find offensive and I do nothing because I completely believe in their right to say, write, and advertise those things.

    I don’t have to be a protester to support free speech.

  • Adrian

    I support free speech to a point.

    I don’t believe that we have a right to provoke riots, call for the death of minorities, slander others, or spread untruths about food/chemicals if believing the untruths would harm people’s health.

    You give an example of billboards which is a total gimme, but I’ll go further and think that holocaust deniers should be able to speak (provided they don’t become lynch mobs) and Fred Phelps should be able to protest funerals in his own repellent fashion. I also think that private billboard companies should be able to accept or reject ads based on any criteria they wish, the line only gets crossed if the government intervenes.

    So, what am I gonna do about it? I’m not going to die for that belief. Martyrdom is a young man’s sport and dead men’s voices grow silent quickly. Much better, in my opinion, is to remain alive and work to affect real democratic change. It’s never fast, it’s never in one direction, but I think it’s the best option. Now if we were living under a genuine tyrant as Voltaire was, perhaps things would be different. There would be few avenues for change and martyrdom is one of the few means available. And let’s not forget that Voltaire lived into his 80s, so whatever he might have meant by that statement it seems he didn’t mean to die for his beliefs any more than I do.

  • Miguel Peña

    I guess, then, I don’t believe in freedom of speech. It’s just that I trust my responsible educated point of view more than one of an ignorant hick.
    Sorry, but we need authority in this world.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Regardless of who is responsible in this case, one point of view is free to express while another is frequently censored. . . imagine that the local government and/or the advertising company decide to take down the sign before the date agreed upon. . .

    I disagree. If this was really a decision of the billboard company, without the influence of the City Council, I don’t see a free speech issue (I’m skeptical of the city’s claims here, which is why I say “if”). I suppose one can say that the atheist viewpoint is still being “censored,” but not in a way that violates anyone’s free speech rights. Private individuals have a right to register their disapproval with the billboard company, and the billboard company has a right to use their billboard as they see fit. The company may be in breach of contract, but not of anyone’s First Amendment rights.

    I also disagree that “( C ) doing nothing” indicates that you don’t believe in freedom of speech. You may just have other priorities. Richard, what have you done to stop the war in the Congo? If nothing, does that mean that you approve of the war?

    P.S. It’s a little weird that you cite Voltaire in a quote that you acknowledge is apocryphal.

  • Anon

    Miguel Peña, I’d suggest your viewpoint inadvertently reveals the crux of why free speech is necessary: you believe not only that you are right, but that your opinion is necessarily more valuable than that of ‘less-edcuated’ others.

    Now, while there certainly is an argument for such a belief: people, particularly poorly-educated ones, are about as renowned for their intelligence as they are for their constant desire to think. Nevertheless, that poorly-educated hillbilly thinks exactly the same as you do: that his opinion is all correct and you’re part of the crazy liberal élite conspiracy. What gives you the right to overrule this belief?

    There are two key problems with somehow dividing the population into those who are thoughtful enough to give an opinion and those who don’t. The first is that, as we are usually not aware of flaws in our own reasoning till shown them by others, we may be entirely wrong without being aware of it: how do you know beyond any doubt a hillbilly bleating about family values is totally wrong, and that you’ve not missed something?

    The second problem is, quite simply, the pragmatic one that ensures such a division, even if one group could be proven correct, is impossible: who is to judge? Who decides whose views are valuable, and how can we know they have no ulterior motives? Idiots are in the majority – why can’t they vote to silence you?

  • SarahH

    I rarely write letters to politicians/newspapers/etc and I’ve only been to a few protests.

    As others have said, this doesn’t mean I don’t support causes. I support them with my money, my votes, word-of-mouth, and yes, online as well.

    There are a few big things that get me riled up, and for those few things, I might go out of my way to make myself heard, but if I picked D or E every time I had a strong stance on an issue, I wouldn’t have time to go to work or spend with my husband.

    I think most people have a few things like that. Unfortunately, for 90 people, suppressing free speech in this case was one of their big issues. Fortunately, there are people like you, who stand strong on the other side, actively voicing your disapproval loudly and clearly. Just because the rest of us aren’t as loud or as active, we’re not apathetic or lazy.

  • http://deeplyblasphemous.blogspot.com Chris Bradley

    I found the article to be pretty childish. Most of the time, for a billboard, I would likely do nothing – then I am accused of not believing in freedom of speech.

    Which is pretty interesting, because as a writer who writes deeply unpopular things – I wrote a whole book about how I think that Jesus was a con man not too much different from L. Ron Hubbard – I very much think I do believe in freedom of speech.

    Apparently, the author believes that the only legitimate way to express this is through his two responses, tho’. Only if you’re willing to write a letter to the newspaper (he bags on blogs but thinks that writing to a NEWSPAPER is “doing something” – that caused quite an eyeroll) or some sort of demonstration. I think this speaks more for his lack of imagination than anything else.

    Like everyone – including demonstrators – people have to choose their battles. If everyone protested against everything then they would be doing nothing but protesting and shooting off angry letters to the editor. A person’s specific inability or unwillingness to take up the matter of censorship on billboards does not mean that that person isn’t for freedom of speech. Perhaps it means that their time and energy is taken up somewhere else which they think is at least equally important, or maybe they don’t have faith in newspapers or demonstration . . . but I guess when you’re judging people for not thinking like you do, without doing much thinking at all, you’re bound to say some stupid things.

  • Miko

    I don’t believe that we have a right to provoke riots,

    Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and similar pamphlets sparked a revolution. The Declaration of Independence asserts people have a right to revolution. Do these count as prohibited speech? Provoking riots is one of the most important reasons to have freedom of speech.

    or spread untruths about food/chemicals if believing the untruths would harm people’s health.

    But you’re okay with spreading untruths about other things that could harm people’s health? Why make an exception for food and drugs? A common argument in favor of legal abortions is that they prevent back-alley abortions. The thing that amazes me is that people who accept this argument fail to realize that it extends to legalizing most everything. What happens if you abridge people’s rights to talk about certain issues? Are they going to happily comply with your regulation when they disagree with your definition of “truth,” or are they going to move underground? I’d much rather have all of the stupid arguments out in the open; it makes countering them that much easier. As an example, most of the anti-vaccination nuts are already huge conspiracy theorists; do we really want them whispering “The Government doesn’t want you to know this, but…”

  • Miko

    I also disagree that “( C ) doing nothing” indicates that you don’t believe in freedom of speech. You may just have other priorities. Richard, what have you done to stop the war in the Congo? If nothing, does that mean that you approve of the war?

    The main difference is that a war is a fact, whereas freedom of speech is a sentence on a piece of paper. The foundational philosophy of the United States is that we have inalienable rights preceding the establishment of the government. The First Amendment grants us no rights; rather, it let’s the government know one of the conditions under which we’ll consent to be governed. If you see a violation of free speech and do nothing, you’ve consented to be governed without it, and hence you don’t support free speech.

    On a side note, if you’re going to support one side in a war, chances are someone else is going to support the other side. If you’re supplying weapons, you’re getting rich off of bloodshed while ensuring that there are materials to continue the war indefinitely. If you’re providing so-called “peace keepers,” you’re increasing the number of combatants. Doing nothing is the best way to stop a war.

  • Adrian

    Miko,

    Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and similar pamphlets sparked a revolution. Does that count as speech that is prohibited? Provoking riots is one of the most important reasons to have freedom of speech.

    I’m not American and I don’t know enough about the content of “Common Sense” to comment. For the moment, I’ll say that if your intention is to spark a riot whether that’s to beat up minorities or overthrow a government you think is unjust, your speech should be illegal. If you happen to succeed in overthrowing the government then you may be granted absolution. If you’re laying bare the facts and this happens to create a riot then that should not be illegal.

    If you think that provoking riots was seen by anyone as an important reason for free speech, I think you’re mistaken. Do you have any evidence for the American founders supporting riots? Supporting the dissemination of contrary opinions yes, supporting the freedom of assembly yes, but riots no.

    But you’re okay with spreading untruths about other things that could harm people’s health?

    No. Perhaps my list created a different impression but I was not trying to be exhaustive.

    As an example, most of the anti-vaccination nuts are already huge conspiracy theorists; do we really want them whispering “The Government doesn’t want you to know this, but…”

    There’s a big difference in people whispering conspiracy theories and people plastering bogus health claims on pill bottles and billboards. That’s why slander and libel laws deal with public broadcasts, pictures, signs or publications and not what people communicate in private.

    Again, I get the feeling like you’re reading my comment as something that was authoritative and exhaustive covering all conceivable aspects of communication. It was just an off-the-cuff comment on a blog post. I’m happy to clarify, converse and provoke reactions but cut me some slack here :)

  • http://dmcleish.id.au Shishberg

    A person’s specific inability or unwillingness to take up the matter of censorship on billboards does not mean that that person isn’t for freedom of speech.

    Agree completely. Richard seems to be pulling that old “if you’re not for us then you’re against us” nonsense, and I’m not buying it.

  • Adrian

    I don’t see Richard as having these sinister motives and despite a superficial reading I don’t see him calling for a national revolt because of this one issue. In fact, he’s a Christian coming out and demanding more action to protest an atheist billboard being taken down, so maybe cut him some slack. It’s worth considering that there may be some honestly mistaken interpretations.

  • http://dmcleish.id.au Shishberg

    I don’t see Richard as having these sinister motives and despite a superficial reading I don’t see him calling for a national revolt because of this one issue. In fact, he’s a Christian coming out and demanding more action to protest an atheist billboard being taken down, so maybe cut him some slack. It’s worth considering that there may be some honestly mistaken interpretations.

    I wouldn’t say his motives are sinister. The basic point that freedom of speech includes freedom of speech for people you disagree with is a valid and important one.

    What I take objection to is his attempt to separate the sheep from the goats (so to speak) by defining exactly what constitutes “believing in freedom of speech” – specifically, protesting or writing letters (but not writing on a blog) – and accusing people of not believing in freedom of speech if they don’t perform the exact actions that he laid out in his Five Points of Conformity.

    I live on the opposite side of the world. I agree with the sentiment of the original billboard, but I have no intention of writing a letter to my local newspaper in Sydney, Australia about the removal of a billboard in Rancho Cucamonga which may or may not have been done under pressure from their local council. According to Richard’s Five Points, this means that I don’t support free speech.

    That simply makes no sense.

    Richard is absolutely correct that there are people who use “freedom of speech” as a weapon to defend only their own views, rather than as a right for everyone. For that, I applaud him. But what he’s demonstrated in the process of making that point is the same my-issue-is-the-only-one-that-matters mentality that leads people to use the label “un-American” to describe people who don’t sufficiently oppose gay rights. (Of course, un-American doesn’t mean much to an Aussie, but you get the point.)

  • DSimon

    This has been stated by others a few times above, but just to add my dime:

    It’s entirely possible for me to demonstrate against a billboard without being in favor of its censorship. I’d merely be exercising the very same rights used by whoever put up the billboard in the first place.

    Speech should be immune from censorship, but never from criticism.

    (Edit: Crud, sorry, I didn’t read the article carefully enough. The picture depicted people protesting before the billboard was taken down, but the article was actually talking about protests occurring afterwards.)

  • http://www.mindblink.org Linda

    I don’t see Richard as having these sinister motives and despite a superficial reading I don’t see him calling for a national revolt because of this one issue. In fact, he’s a Christian coming out and demanding more action to protest an atheist billboard being taken down, so maybe cut him some slack. It’s worth considering that there may be some honestly mistaken interpretations.

    Firstly, the last time I checked, Richard Wade is NOT a Christian, unless I missed a monumental event such as that (?) Richard? Did I miss a miracle? I demand a replay if I did!!

    From my perspective, I think what Richard is trying to point out is that the two sides depicted by the two signs he refers to are severely mismatched in loudness of voice. Given the fact that the atheists are in the minority, their voice is lower in volume and fewer in number.

    I am a Christian who believes in freedom of speech. For the past year, I have been reading your comments on this blog, often passionate, against the fundamental Christians and other religious beliefs. But do you actually “do” anything about those complaints other than bitch and gripe about them here or to each other? Just asking.

    The only way for the minority to be heard over the majority is to have a louder voice. If you’re not heard, then you’re not heard. Sounds like simple logic to me. Laziness, complacency, and lack of passion do not make change happen. You want change? Then start from number one. If not, then shut up and pray for change. (oh wait… you don’t pray) :-)

    I do agree with some of you that there are ways to take action other than what Richard pointed out. I don’t think he meant that those were the “only” ways. Do it the way you deem appropriate. You know the difference between action and inaction. And if you choose inaction, then chances are that the issue in question is simply not important enough to you. That is perfectly fine. Just don’t speak as if you passionately believe in something when you clearly don’t. Leave that behavior to us luke warm Christians. We’re good at it. ;-)

  • Adrian

    Firstly, the last time I checked, Richard Wade is NOT a Christian, unless I missed a monumental event such as that (?) Richard? Did I miss a miracle? I demand a replay if I did!!

    Argh! Did I confuse him with Mike Clawson? What a dunderhead I am. Apologies all around for my stupidity. This is why I can’t read books with more than two main characters, I just get everyone confused.

  • Richard Wade

    :) Adrian, it’s okay, I’ve been called much worse. Besides, it doesn’t matter whether I”m a Christian, atheist or peyote priest for the point I’m trying to make. Linda, thanks for the clarification. Yeah, still god-free and glad. I’m too tired to respond to the very thoughtful (no irony) comments tonight, but I’ll try to clear up some people’s misconceptions and jumps to conclusions tomorrow.

  • Richard Wade

    My friends, here is my response. I thank all of you for your interest in this issue, regardless of your agreement or disagreement. Here we are freely speaking of freedom of speech, and able to continue speaking even with our disagreements.

    Agreement is not important. Only understanding is.

  • Miko

    Adrian: Sorry for the delayed response; I had to look up source for a quotation (since many Jefferson quotations are fraudulent, I like to be careful when citing him).

    If you think that provoking riots was seen by anyone as an important reason for free speech, I think you’re mistaken. Do you have any evidence for the American founders supporting riots?

    There’s a difference between supporting riots and supporting talk leading to them. Philosophically, they were loath in general to blame any person for the action of others, so I imagine banning “seditious talk” would have had little support among most of them. Also, consider:

    First off, their conduct: the battle at Lexington and Concord began as what could best be described as a riot. Also, while completely nonviolent, the Boston Tea Party was nonetheless rather destructive.

    Second, their justification for revolution:

    That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

    – Declaration of Independence

    The phrase “train of abuses and usurpations” comes from Locke and specifies semi-strict requirements, but overthrowing the government is identified as a protected right in certain situations (and Locke himself exercised this right unsuccessfully in 1688, so he wasn’t just spouting philosophy). Of course, under Locke’s definition, this wouldn’t apply to a government offering a democratic means of reform such as the US has. However, to determine whether the conditions are met it’s still necessary to be free to publically discuss them (which indeed is what the bulk of the Declaration is devoted to doing.)

    Finally, in addition to the Jefferson quotations I posted elsewhere, I add:

    The strongest reason for people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.

    - Thomas Jefferson in a letter to William S. Smith, Paris, November 13, 1787

    While not directly about speech, if you have the right to resist government by force of arms in certain circumstances, you certainly have the right to talk about it. Of course, Jefferson was the most liberal of the Founders; Hamilton would certainly have disagreed with this sentiment and the others would have fallen at various places along the spectrum in between.

    More vaguely,

    They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

    – Ben Franklin, In Conference, Feb 17, 1775

    Most of the founders said something along the lines of too much liberty being preferable to too little, so I imagine they tend to err on the sides of allowing the talk (if not the riot itself). Plus the phrase “make no law” in the 1st Amendment isn’t especially ambiguous.

    If you’re laying bare the facts and this happens to create a riot then that should not be illegal.

    The problem is that this condition is impossible to check in reality. Many “clear and present danger” cases have fallen into this niche in my opinion. And over time more general rights are taken away chip by chip. The law doesn’t matter until things get resolved after the fact (often long after), so while preventing riots sounds like a good idea in theory, the law is more often misused as a way of stifling dissent (unless you think someone willing to risk arrest as a rioter would be deterred by a law prohibiting speech). I’m willing to listen to evidence to the contrary, but seeing as rioting is already a crime and ringleaders in the rioting already receive harsher punishments, I fail to see a compelling benefit to justify creating a separate crime for the speech leading to it.

    As a case in point, the Danish cartoons of Mohammad led to riots and some Muslim leaders claimed that the cartoonists incited the riots. By accepting the idea that one individual can be responsible for the actions of others solely because of something they said/wrote, you help legitimize claims such as these. Ideally, I’d like a world in which no one wanted to riot, but I’d much rather have a system in which those who riot are punished for rioting and those who don’t, aren’t.

  • http://indyfreethinker.livejournal.com indyfreethinker

    The City Council has denied reports that they pressured the billboard company to take it down, but they still claimed that City Hall had received “90 complaints.” Regardless of who is responsible in this case, one point of view is free to express while another is frequently censored.

    In principle, is there a difference between “paid” speech (advertising)and free speech? Does the fact that the billboard is privately owned and is a source of revenue for the owner a factor? This could have been an economic decision, although if it is true that the city pressured the billboard owner, this would most certainly constitute censorship. But doesn’t a business owner have the right to make business decisions?

    That being said, even as a believer, I upheld the right of billboards to carry whatever message they pleased, even when those messages were offensive to me. Today, I am more offended by the “jesus is the answer” and “fear god” billboards than I once was by strip club billboards, but the first amendment should trump personal taste in any case.

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  • http://non-theist.com/compelling-atheism/ Josh Nankivel

    Readers may find this post from today interesting, inspired by this post.

    Compelling Atheism?

    Josh Nankivel
    http://non-theist.com

  • Pingback: Free Speech and Atheist Billboards | Unorthodox Religion Pregnancy

  • Ty Right

    No understanding here on this site, that freedom of speech is a “right” in the sense that Government has no right to censor, but it’s not a “right” that can be demanded of a private company. So local government cannot censor if this is speech protected by law. The advertising company can pull the ad however and then lose money in a civil suit, for breach of contract, but you aren’t going to be able to force them to carry that ad… The MTA in NYC runs ads that it then suddenly pulls because of political or special interests interference, in spite of being a publicly owned utility, and therefore having questionable authority to abrogate a contract, because suddenly people don’t like the message. No one in NYC Protests, because individual New Yorkers don’t believe in Freedom of Expression for others, only for themselves, and because NYC is ruled by a totalitarian regime of Mayor Bloomberg, who paid New Yorkers to vote for him and bought three elections, and thinks of himself as a benevolent dictator who can arrest any protestors he likes, first amendment or not. He prevented the NRA from opening an Office in NYC, making clear staements that they would not be able to express their message in “His” town. So Mr. Friendly Atheist, Mr. Wade, what are you doing about projecting freedom of speech in NYC, when the MTA takes the inoffensive Atheist Ads off of the MTA buses. Or don’t you believe in freedom of speech? Ha? And let’s see how much you personally will stick by your avowed beliefs by allowing my comment???

  • Freedomlover

    Amendment I.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; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    Sexual harassment laws pertaining to a ‘hostile or offensive work environment’ are illegal under the US Constitution. The US Supreme Court has no authority to rule on this matter other than to overturn that portion of the civil rights law because the right to freedom of speech cannot be restricted or taken away. See Unalienable.

    What ever happened to “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me”?

    I believe in the Bill of Rights as it is written.

    Only a constitutional amendment can alter your rights.


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