What is Freedom of Speech?

Seems like people lately are talking more about “freedom of speech”. For instance, a letter-writer in the NYT said people critizing Rick Santorum for his homophobic remarks were trampling on his freedom of speech. But what is freedom of speech? In our shallow pop-political culture it’s turned into a facile justification for anybody saying anything. Before we start trying to teach the Iraqis about democracy, shouldn’t we figure it out ourselves? Here’s some things that apparently people think constitute constitutionally-protected free speech:

  • Freedom for elected officials to say things even when they show that they are obviously unfit to hold office, cannot possibly represent the people that elected them, and should be voted out at the earliest possible opportunity. This is the Santorum case. Of course he’s free to say it. And yep, we’re free to criticize it, and vote the bum out.
  • Freedom for people to say things without being criticized. If they’re free to say it, then we’re free to criticize it, right?
  • Freedom for celebrities to say things without commercial consequences. I think it’s very stupid that people would not listen to good music because of something the people that make it said, or for companies to choose not to play someone’s music for that reason, but neither infringes on the freedom of speech of the musician.

Leave a Reply