Free Speech Isn’t Just for People That Don’t Tick You Off

CNN poll on Rush LimbaughToday’s CNN Poll demonstrating that 45% of respondents don’t value the First Amendment.

It never ceases to amaze me how selective some people can be when they talk about free speech. For some, it means that it’s acceptable to stand on a street corner telling people they’re going to hell for consuming alcohol, but not acceptable to protest outside a government building that the wealthy have too much influence. For others it may mean that it’s fine to camp as a form of protest in public parks and deprive others the use of that land, but not okay to protest to express your religious views on abortion. The latest target of the anti-free speech crowd (a label I have given them for the sake of argument) is Rush Limbaugh. As anyone with a TV, radio, newspaper, or computer knows, Limbaugh has taken a lot of heat and lost a lot of advertisers for referring to women like Sandra Fluke a “slut” or “prostitute” because in his opinion, demanding that insurers or employers pay for contraception amounts to being paid for sex. Now don’t get me wrong, Rush Limbaugh is not a classy guy. If I were to use a list of words to describe him, tasteful, logical, and appropriate wouldn’t appear anywhere on the list. But that’s not the point is it? The point is he called, whether directly or indirectly, this woman a “slut”, and now some liberals and feminists are calling for his head. Gloria Allred, another well known public figure with a penchant for drama, has called for legal action against Rush. I have no doubt that she’d love to be selected for that lawsuit. Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem want the FCC to take action against Rush. CNN’s homepage had a poll today asking if Rush Limbaugh should be kicked off the air, and so far over 40,000 people have voted “Yes”. Let me say that I think, in no uncertain terms, all of these people are wrong.

These people, some of which are well known for their own inflammatory remarks, seem to have lost their understanding of what free speech means. What Rush said was not hate speech. It may be hateful speech, it may be offensive speech, but it in no way posed an immediate threat to Ms. Fluke through instigating violent action or hate crimes, which is what hate speech is typically defined as in the United States. If Ms. Fluke wished to pursue it as a slander case that may be possible depending on the state laws involved, but federally speaking, what Rush said was legal and well within the protection of the first amendment. Even the ACLU, an organization I don’t often love, has specific articles relating to instances of offensive speech and why we must protect the rights of those saying these things. In fact, here’s a quote from that article I find particularly applicable: “How much we value the right of free speech is put to its severest test when the speaker is someone we disagree with most. Speech that deeply offends our morality or is hostile to our way of life warrants the same constitutional protection as other speech because the right of free speech is indivisible: When one of us is denied this right, all of us are denied.” You may hate what he says, and you may hate this comment of his specifically, but if you value our Constitution and your own right to free speech, you are obligated to protect his right to say it.

It is simply stunning to me that so many fringe elements of our political system want to be able to say or do whatever they want under the label “free speech” but the second someone offends them, they demand legal actions, regulations, or the removal of that person from their position. To all of you I say this: Free speech is not just for people that agree with you or you simply don’t care about. Free speech ensures that you are going to hear people say things you find offensive and distasteful from time to time, just as they may find your speech offensive and distasteful. What protects your rights protects all our rights. The way to beat Rush Limbaugh and those like him (don’t kid yourself, they exist on both sides of the political spectrum) isn’t to try to infringe on the rights of all Americans, but rather to speak out yourself. Use your right to free speech and tell people why you think he’s wrong. Tell people why they shouldn’t listen to him. Just don’t tell the government that he shouldn’t be allowed to say it and then get mad when they turn around and take your rights away too.

-M

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Free Speech Isn’t Just for People That Don’t Tick You Off

  1. Barney

    “free speech” does not apply to federally licensed airways. Never has.

    There is a difference between free speech on a street corner, and on the public airwaves. Rush is free to say whatever disgusting things he wants, just not into a microphone.

    • I think that’s a dramatic over simplification of the issue and I don’t think it’s legally correct based off anything I can find. Could you please explain this for me or provide a source so I can consider that information? Freedom of the Press, if that’s what you’re getting at, is more concerned with what you can force the press to say and is only somewhat related to free speech. If that’s what you’re talking about, I agree that is correct, but disagree that free speech doesn’t apply to airwaves. The media exceptions to free speech are still very closely intertwined with the first amendment and there are pretty specific “exclusions” to freedom of speech for media, none of which should have been infringed on by Rush’s comments since I don’t believe what was said can fall under the obscenity category the FCC used against Howard Stern. The airwaves are not limited to being inoffensive or clean, and I think there’s ample legal precedent to show that what Rush said is perfectly allowable within even the FCC’s rules, they’re very specifically restricted so as to preserve free speech while protecting certain audiences. I’m curious as to the basis for your comment since you may have a new perspective or take on this I haven’t yet looked at.
      -M

  2. After reading Barney’s comment, I decided to look into the only organization with the legal authority to censor the airwaves or restrict free speech, the FCC and see what their take is on free speech and media. I think this sums it up pretty well: http://www.fcc.gov/guides/fcc-and-freedom-speech

    A quote “The FCC is barred by law from trying to prevent the broadcast of any point of view. The Communications Act prohibits the FCC from censoring broadcast material, in most cases, and from making any regulation that would interfere with freedom of speech. Expressions of views that do not involve a “clear and present danger of serious substantive evil” come under the protection of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press. The FCC cannot suppress such expressions. According to an FCC opinion on this subject, “the public interest is best served by permitting free expression of views.” This principle ensures that the most diverse and opposing opinions will be expressed, even though some may be highly offensive.”

    So there you have it. The FCC agrees that the first amendment applies to the airwaves outside of the exceptions they set forth to protect children from indecent material, and wide audiences from obscene material.
    -M

    • Barney

      So if I understand you correctly, yelling “fire” in a crowded theater is a freedom of speech issue and should be ok, laws against slander are unconstitutional, and anyone should have the right to say or do anything over the public airwaves. Porn at 6pm on a major network? Where do you draw the lines, or should there be no lines?

      I have nothing against el Rushbo, as he calls himself, or anyone else saying whatever grubby thing crawls thru their little minds. But it should be like Churchill Park in London, the origin of free speech, wher a speaker is free to say anything, as long as they are standing on a box above the crowds, who are free to respond in any manner, including generously sharing their vegetables. Think about it.

      • Barney,
        You’re not understanding this correctly at all. I’m not sure if you’re actually reading what I am offering, or this would have already been largely explained. Read the FCC page. No, porn is not allowed at 6pm due to the inappropriate nature and the risk of children viewing. After 10pm or with age restrictions on content, there is more flexibility in what is allowed. Speech itself it subject to the same rules- profane or inappropriate language is generally forbidden between 6am and 10pm. That’s all. If it’s not hate speech, or it’s not considered obscene/indecent overall, it’s covered by free speech. There are lines, and they are very limited to protect our rights. It’s all on the page. I’m not frustrated by the communication disconnect, but I think you’re viewing what I’m writing as advocating for speech freedoms being broader, which I’m not. There are good reasons why free speech should be as broad as possible, but all I’m talking about is the existing laws and protecting our speech within those laws, nothing more.

        Yelling “fire” in a crowded theater is illegal because it is intended to cause harm to other people. Causing a panic in a crowded space with a few exits? Odds are very good someone is going to get hurt and the person yelling it has no other intent than to cause the panic and potential harm, therefore, it’s not protected speech. It’s really quite simple. If you’re not causing direct harm or danger to another person, it’s probably free speech.

        I don’t like Limbaugh, but what he said should be protected as free speech since it doesn’t qualify as hate speech and is not in opposition to existing federal laws. Slander laws are on a state by state basis, so what Rush said very well may have been slander depending on the jurisdiction, but it’d still be a tough case to prove. Learn more about your rights so that you know your rights, and protect them.
        -M

  3. The Discourse Pundit

    Agree, We should be encouraging greater civility in our public discourse, not trying to silence people.

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