James Leroy Wilson's blog

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Only the State must respect freedom of speech

Don Boudreaux, from a letter he sent to The Wall Street Journal:
Today’s "Notable & Quotable" reports that more than half of America’s college students oppose free speech on campus – which means that more than half of America’s college students are one small step away from opposing free speech everywhere. 
It's certainly disconcerting that so many oppose free speech on college campuses -- the one place above all that it should be tolerated.

But by saying they  "are one small step away from opposing free speech everywhere," Boudreaux suggests college students are just a small step away from supporting State censorship of words. I don't  draw that conclusion.

After all,  in practical terms we - you and I - oppose free speech almost everywhere already. That doesn't mean we want The State to punish speech. I think Boudreaux would agree...
  • You're within your rights to ask a guest who's making offensive remarks to leave your party.
  •  Ushers or security can escort out talkative patrons during a theater performance.
  • Church leaders can be fired for preaching or writing heresies.
  • Employees on the job aren't exactly free to air their grievances with their employer in front of others without risk of being fired.
  • Individuals can be fired for remarks made in social media, on their own time, about issues that have nothing to do with their job.
  • Social media platforms have terms and conditions regarding content.
A university is similar. The most it can do to punish speech is fire or expel people. It can't fine, punish, or execute them.

While those who oppose free speech on campus are more likely to support State censorship, there's still much more than a "small step" between the two, just as there's more than a "small step" between agreeing with YouTube or Twitter closing an offensive user's account, and saying that user should go to jail.

The State must respect your freedom of speech. No one else has to.

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