Why social justice requires freedom of speech

Why social justice requires freedom of speech March 3, 2016

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A Pew Research Center poll showed that 40% of Millennials and 35% of Democrats would want the government to prevent people saying things that are offensive to minorities.

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I proudly wear my “social justice warrior” badge, but even I find this to be ridiculous. Suggesting that the government should intervene when something is offensive is a clear violation of free speech. Even if it wasn’t, I would like to know who would determine what is deemed offensive? Would you really trust the government enough to determine what is acceptable speech for everyone? I certainly don’t!

Right now the majority of Americans support same-sex marriage, which means a minority still oppose it. Should we ban talking about same-sex marriage because it is going to offend a small percentage of people? Absolutely not. As soon as we support censorship for one offensive statement, we lose the ability to criticize censorship that we disagree with.

Importantly, freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences. If someone is saying something awful, we can protest, boycott, or fight back. Our freedom of speech allows us to call out bigots and have them face the consequences of their intolerance. We can also discuss why we think certain ideas are harmful and make our society friendlier for everyone. Thus, freedom of speech is actually necessary for social justice because it allows us to speak out against injustices and challenge the status quo.

While I may not think people should say certain things, I definitely will not try to take away their right to say it. We can have dialog with those we disagree with and attempt to change their minds as well as the broader culture. I’ve changed my mind many, many times from learning about new evidence. I would hate to see the government remove such learning opportunities. Having the government dictate what we can and cannot say would hinder social justice and is ultimately dangerous for everyone.

[Featured images from Newtown grafitti under Creative Commons 2.0 and Pew Research Center]


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