Free speech advocates need to understand that even their most prized infallible excuse for being ignorant has limits. Many people would like to believe that they can say anything at any time at any given place. However, that is not the case.
I cannot express how many times I have had the displeasure and unfortunate turn of fate to be in a room with some foolish boy spewing pejoratives and ignorance. It never fails that once this person is called out on his less than gracious behavior, he then proclaims his freedom of speech. For whatever reason, people use freedom of speech as a shield to mean that they are exempt from criticism, critique and consequences.
Over the past century the Supreme Court of the United States has decided, on several occasions, that free speech is not a limitless liberty. They have readily placed restrictions on free speech and defined proper boundaries. Many of these cases have led to limitations on a person’s right to free speech, from clear and present danger to incitement to fighting words and even obscenity.
Even clearly protected speech can be subject to content-neutral time, place and manner regulations, meaning, regardless of the message, lawmakers can place a limit on where, when and how a message can be voiced. Using a bullhorn in an occupied apartment complex to call your landlord a douchebag at 3 a.m. would be a good example of this.
Aside from the legality of free speech and how it has historically and currently been limited, it is also important to note that having the freedom of speech does not mean exemption from ridicule. People can rebuke and critique the speech of a person they find offensive and bothersome. One person’s freedom of speech does not trump another’s. If they have the right to voice their unpopular opinions and viewpoints, then on the flipside I have the right to voice my objections to their unpopular opinions and viewpoints.
Likewise, companies and corporations, especially private ones, can even reprimand employees if their speech has the potential to negatively affect the bottom-line of the corporation. This was shown recently in the media with the CEO of Mozilla, Brendan Eich, and his anti-gay donations, celebrity chef Paula Deen and her anti-black remarks and Phil Robertson of reality show Duck Dynasty and his anti-gay views. All of these people were ousted out by their employers due to their unpopular speech and the negative affect their association would have on the respective businesses, though the latter was eventually reinstated.
So, before people go out in a crowded room yelling obscenities and provoking pejoratives while simultaneously exclaiming, “Free speech bro, I got free speech,” they should understand that that “free speech” oftentimes comes with a cost.