What Obligations Does Freedom of Speech Carry?
By David Henderson
Kenneth Grubbs, a friend on Facebook and press secretary for Dana Rohrabacher, a Congressman representing the 48th Congressional District of California, writes:
The right to free speech also means acknowledging when to remain silent–a discipline Pam Geller never mastered.
[Ken gave me permission to quote him.]
My response: No it doesn’t. Everyone–and that includes fools, idiots, and toxic people–has the right to free speech. We can argue about whether Pam Geller should have taunted Muslims the way she did. I’m generally against such taunting. Also I have argued elsewhere against one of Ms. Geller’s causes: preventing the building of a mosque in Manhattan near the site of most of the 9/11 murders. But in the current case, one in which she encouraged people to draw Mohammad, I’m in favor of what she did, at least if I understand it correctly. It’s a matter of context. If some people threaten others with death for drawing pictures of someone they hold sacred, it becomes important for some other people to take a stand and do the very thing that others were threatened for doing. Indeed, there could be a huge positive externality in Ms. Geller’s actions: giving others courage to exercise their freedom of speech by speaking out against any religion–or any other cause–they wish to.
This is no different in principle from the young man who recently defied President Obama’s restriction on financially supporting Edward Snowden by contributing a small amount of Bitcoin to Snowden, although Ms. Geller is on stronger legal ground.
But let’s say you disagree with me about the wisdom, propriety, or ethics of Pam Geller’s actions.
Fine. So disagree.
But don’t go around saying, as Kenneth Grubbs does, that freedom of speech means acknowledging when to remain silent. It doesn’t. Even people who never shut up have the right to speak. I agree with Kenneth Grubbs that it would be nice for people to exercise good judgment. But free speech carries no such obligation.