How “free” is “free speech?”

I’ve been following the “free speech” debates, and can come to only one defensible conclusion. One conclusion, that is to say, which neither denies the free speech idea nor validates grotesque images and words published under its banner.

It is based on what I believe to be the one universal belief — a dictum found in some form in nearly every organized culture — which supersedes free speech. It goes by many names, but is best known in the Western world as “the golden rule.”

If you find it difficult — even impossible — to accept a vicious and grotesque representation of those things you hold dear and sacred and true, you ought not to create, spread, or tolerate such representations of anyone else’s dearly held truth.

Or, to paraphrase the original, “speak of others as you would have them speak of you.”

If “golden rule” is not comfortable for you, sounds too religious or too old fashioned, replace it with “the social contract.” Very nearly the same thing.

4 thoughts on “How “free” is “free speech?”

  1. I am guessing you are referring to the attack on staff of Charlie Hebdo. I agree with what you say. I wish we could make our incivility to each other known in a civil way. Charlie Hebdo is certainly not an example of great civility in journalism.
    However, the wrongs we do to each other have to be surfaced or they will not be corrected and maybe it is only the types of press like Charlie Hebdo who will do this in a way that makes us all pay attention.
    For example, I read someplace that the Catholic Church had been the major subject of Charlie Hebdo. I do not know what Charlie Hebdo published about the Catholic Church. Maybe one subject could have been the refusal of church authorities to acknowledge the pedophilia crimes committed by Catholic clergy and the protection those clergy received from all authorities because they were Catholic clergy. As a devout Catholic, I was stunned by the extent of the crimes and more stunned by the worldwide cover-up. I want all the information about these crimes brought to the attention of the entire world. Only in this way, can these horrific wrongs be stopped and healing start.
    The Catholic Church, like other major religions, has a huge following. None of us who are part of the faithful of any religion are perfect. So, I am sure, there are many other actions of people of faith that could be topics of Charlie Hebdo.
    If the only place that these wrongs are surfaced is in Charlie Hebdo, then we need to make sure that Charlie Hebdo stays in business. If we want Charlie Hebdo to go out of business, then we have to find a way to make sure we pay attention to the wrongs that we commit against each other in the name of religion. We have to be willing to be brave enough to acknowledge those wrongs and correct them.

    1. Chris — Thanks for your comment, and I take your point. However, it seemed to me that, in context, CH was not so much reporting as it was bashing: crude critiques of basic beliefs. That is, in your illustration, it would not have been exposing pedophilia, but using that phenomenon to make fun of Christianity in general. Of course we need to expose and acknowledge the wrongs — which is much harder and far more important than making crude jokes about people’s beliefs and heritage.

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