The Truth About Americans and Our Love/Hate Relationship with the Freedom of Speech

first-amendment-1In this country, a common narrative on which we claim to pride ourselves is found within our First Amendment and our “freedom of speech.” It’s one of the few things you’ll see both liberals and conservatives claim to value and support. Both sides will tell you that our freedom of speech is one of the key values on which this nation was built.

But I’m here to tell you, both sides are full of crap.

The fact is, both sides often only love free speech when that speech supports their side or it’s something with which they agree. If it’s something they oppose, especially if it’s offensive, both sides (depending on what was said) are often quick to denounce and condemn whatever was said and whoever said it.

Especially if it’s a public figure or business.

If a business owner makes a statement that offends one side or the other, it’s common to see boycotts called for, or online petitions springing up all over the internet, denouncing that business.

Whenever some well known person is caught saying something that might be deemed “offensive,” even if it’s not contextually offensive, suddenly there’s a public outcry for a formal apology. If it happens to be some kind of movie star, radio personality or media pundit then there’s frequently a call to boycott their movies, shows or some kind of a push to have them fired for whatever it is that was said.

Though, it is true, these boycotts and petitions are just another form of “free speech.” It’s an ironic twist in the whole “free speech” universe. People opposing free speech by utilizing their right of – free speech.

But when it really comes right down to it, both sides are absolutely hypocrites when it comes to their “love” of free speech. Both sides might say they love the right for Americans to have the freedom to speak without fear of legal prosecution (which is what “freedom of speech” actually refers to) but that “love” seems conditional on whether or not they agree with whatever is said.

And I’m not innocent of this. I include myself in with this hypocrisy, although I can say I’ve never called for a boycott or pushed any kind of online petition. Though after Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke (a private citizen) a slut I did advocate for him to be taken off the air. My belief being that there’s a difference between attacking a public figure and a private citizen.

It’s everyone’s right to say almost whatever they want, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t repercussions people must face for things that they say. And that’s where the tricky nature of “free speech” comes in. It’s also where the hypocrisy begins.

A group like the KKK, or the Westboro Baptist Church, repulse me in ways that I can’t even describe with words. But I still support their right to free speech. Even if that speech is about as repulsive and deplorable as it can get.

I think it’s a reality we all need to face. That while most of us claim to be supporters of free speech, and our First Amendment, almost all of us are hypocrites to some extent when it comes to that right.

And  I can almost guarantee that there will be people who read this article and choose never to read anything I write again simply because they’ll find something I’ve said here offensive. And that’s absolutely their right to do so. Though, ironically, doing that would also be proving my point.

Because when all is said and done, often our love of free speech ends once something is said with which we disagree.

Allen Clifton

Allen Clifton is a native Texan who now lives in the Austin area. He has a degree in Political Science from Sam Houston State University. Allen is a co-founder of Forward Progressives and creator of the popular Right Off A Cliff column and Facebook page. Be sure to follow Allen on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to his channel on YouTube as well.


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