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.


Facebook comments

  • Stephen Barlow

    I don’t support CASH or actions as free speech. I think flag burning should be a crime, not free speech. An exit visa and a plane ticket says you hate America just as well without being offensive AND you get to leave what you hate so much.

    Why are not bullets to the heads of corrupt politicians FREE SPEECH then?

    Why is it a hate crime to use inflammatory and derogatory invectives at persons of color when Caucasians have to endure “white bread” et al?

    I guess the reality check for free speech would be, “Does the speech HARM OTHERS” Which would CANCEL Citizen’s United as the 1% who are buying elections legally because of SCOTUS are denying the 99% a fair vote, which is actual Constitutional FREE SPEECH.

    I mean this to be offensive, but not sexist of prejudicial. I am making a hard point about sexual equality and when you READ the point, you should feel the truth.

    If a woman says she has PMS & A GUN, she is obviously expecting a pass for the threat. But in reality, hormones are NO EXCUSE for bad behavior. If they were, the male equivalent would be FORCING sex from a woman because “a hormone made Me do it and since I can only control My hormones as well as a PMSing WOMAN WITH A GUN, rape would no longer be a crime, but a moral obligation on behalf of al women everywhere.


    • chaserblue

      You’re definitely wrong, there. It would only be the same thing if she shot every male idiot that was stressing her. Equating a tongue in cheek threat with actual assault is no comparison.

      • Stephen Barlow

        The point is the women abuse the privilege of mismanaging their hormones as an excuse for EVERYTHING while MEN are pigs, commitment phobic or whatnot bullrot that Feminist’s are selling books on talk shows with these days.

        I am just saying to women, take responsibility for your SELVES and quit using the reality that MEN are responding to their hormones too.

        Marriage is about ownership of another human being, not about love or family values. Permanent monogamy is a perpetual fantasy with marriage junkies. Those poor deluded souls who believe there is only ONE person in the world for each person. What if your’s is a Muslim woman in Somalia? What if that was ‘god’s fate’ for you and you never become a pirate?

        NONSENSE rules society.

      • chaserblue

        Well, considering there a rape committed in this country every minute, and crimes by women due to their “hormones” doesn’t begin to reach that kind of epic proportions, then your analogy is basically b.s. Women are not attacking men with fevered abandon. They do not stand on street corners and rip into men for sport. So what if they’re going on talk shows and peddling their latest “men suck” book, that does not begin to do the type of damage that rape does to the soul of a person. I personally feel that all rapists should be taken out and shot. Now, that would be justice. Monogamy is not one size fits all, neither is marriage. Each person has to work out what it means and matters to them. If you have an issue with your ex, then deal with it. But don’t try to excuse rape as a biological urge or impulse beyond control. One of the contracts we make when we consciously decide to live in society is one we learned in kindergarten, keep your hands to yourself. If you can’t do that, then you lost your privileges, and should be dealt with accordingly.

      • Stephen Barlow

        Just keep wearing that T shirt on your 5 days a month. OK?

      • Stephen Barlow

        But you do have to admit one thing, BEFORE the pain of unwanted sex was supermagnified by get rich quick barely competent psychologist authors… and exaggerated by cinema and television Capitalists… the number of completely crippled women was much less.

        You seem to really wanna misread what I warned you was inflammatory. You are also IGNORING the other questions posed as a preface.

        Let’s try working on those in your next rageaholic outburst, OKey Dokey?

      • chaserblue

        Out of roughly three and a half billion women on the planet, a full one third of them will be physically assaulted in her lifetime. You can toss out all the misogynistic and flip b.s. you want. You can’t change those numbers…you want to sit up there and boo-hoo over the way men are treated. Well, if they weren’t such dicks, maybe they wouldn’t be treated as such. Because I have the nerve to call you on your b.s., then I’m just on the rag. It’s attitudes like yours that keep the war between genders alive and well. So you curl up with your beer and manly stuff and whine about how oppressed you are. Cause, yeah…I for one am TOTALLY buying it…maybe someone will call you the Whaaambulance.

      • Stephen Barlow

        I guess that’s a NO on discussing the 4 other points i made in the same post.

        Stop wasting your anger on Me blue.

      • Cemetery Girl

        Women that were raped did not feel pain before society told them they should? Is that what you are trying to say? True, wasn’t a topic discussed openly, but that didn’t mean that there was no suffering. By that logic domestic violence, pedophilia, and stigma of mental disease didn’t cause suffering. This may be a foreign consept to you, but females are human also. You complain that woman are harming men with their “hormones”, yet you have so much anger.

      • Stephen Barlow

        So you allow she can shoot some and claim the PMS card for a walk on multiple murders?

  • missannthrope

    Boycotts rarely work. In a number of cases, they will have the opposite effect. What will get Rush Limbaugh off the air are his sagging ratings. This has already happened in a few markets.

    The biggest threat to free speech I’ve seen lately are the Tumblr special snowflakes, who freak if something doesn’t have a trigger warning, (let’s face it. Everything can be a trigger for something,) or who go around screaming, “your right to free speech ends where my feelings begin.” If we have to start worrying about offending just one person in a million, then free speech is dead.

    • Shadow8088

      Political Correctness has set us back as a country more than most people would imagine.

    • Nancy

      I thick his sagging ratings are the result of boycotts.

  • gerry

    you can say anything you want. if the network you work for decides to fire you for it, thats their decision. it only protects you from the government censoring you. if you are on a tv show and saying something they dont like, yes they have every right to censor you. anyone has every right to boycott you for saying your opinions.

    • Jim Bean

      It shows lack of respect – the same kind of respect that you expect – for what the person said. See?

      • Cemetery Girl

        So if a person walked up to you and began insulting you, harshly insulting you. Not an accident (like unknowingly putting down your favorite sports team) and apologizing, but purposely insulting you, would you stand there to honor their right to free speech or would you walk away? Very few people would think “well, they have the right to express their opinions so I’ll just stay here until they get tired of insulting me.”

      • Jim Bean

        I wouldn’t be on this site if I didn’t respect people’s right to harshly insult me. They do it all the time.

      • Cemetery Girl

        And at any point you are free to walk away from the interaction. You are free to never return to the site. You are free to delete website accounts. We have the freedom to refuse to engage or associate with people that we disagree or find unappealing because of their speech or actions. I know that you support the ability of employers to exercise their rights (as in choices over what will be covered by health insurance), so why deny them the right end associations with people that could bring negativity to their business? Radio and TV can end associations that can hurt their revenue (advertising rules all.) A company can cut ties with an individual that exercises their freedom of speech in a way that creates a hostile work environment. Freedom of speech protects from criminal retribution, but does not force other people to subjected to the speech.

  • Jim Bean

    The articles title should have been, ‘The Truth About LIBERALS and THEIR Love/Hate Relationship With Freedom Speech.’ I seldom see conservatives trying to punish anyone for expressing themselves candidly.

    • Nancy B

      Then you aren’t looking very hard.

    • strayaway

      Maybe not as often but I miss the Dixie Chicks.

      • Jim Bean

        And I agree with you on both counts.

  • Shadow8088

    My favorite line when talking about free speech… “I may not like what you have to say, but dammit I’ll fight for your right to say it.”

  • Mark

    Freedom of speech is a two way street. Maybe you’ll evolve to understand/live that one day. I’ve understood the concept for a very long time. I only get pissed when people imply that freedom of speech is their’s alone. I love your opinions, btw.

  • chaserblue

    There is a difference between free speech and freedom from consequences. I don’t care what you say, you have every right to say and think what you want. It really is your prerogative. Dealing with the backlash of your speech is your responsibility. And escaping that can be somewhat trickier. I can say I hate Cheetos with every fiber of my being. Now, dealing with the Cheetos lovers, the Cheetos organizations and the Cheetos liberation movement is going to be my responsibility. If I work for a Cheetos lover, and that person does not feel I embody the type of person he wants working for him, or feels my negative response to Cheetos will put out the wrong message to his customers or colleagues, then he has every right to terminate my employment. Likewise, I may find myself shut out of the Cheetos groups, clubs and organizations. I may also find that my hand knitted tea cozies no longer sell because no one wants to buy from me, which is also their prerogative. It is, after all, their money. These are consequences of me exercising my free speech. What did not happen, was I was not taken out to some prison and shot in the head. I was not prosecuted for my ignorant and baseless rant about Cheetos. I was not detained by the government for my stance or belief about Cheetos. And that is the only guarantee they make you. You’re on your own for everything else.

  • Sandy Greer

    It’s not Hypocrisy to dislike what somebody says. Not Hypocrisy to turn away from it. Doesn’t mean we’re “full of crap” either. Good Lord.

    Unless we advocate for Group Think, that is. With a side of Political Correctness.

    Free Speech, yes. Free of Consequences? No.

    So long as we are still free, we ‘get to’ determine what we think of what others say.

  • Nancy

    People boycott in order to avoid supporting people or organizations that work against their interests. That is not being anti–free speech.

  • Cemetery Girl

    It is not hypocrisy to disagree with an opinion even if you support free speech. Supporting the ability for others to say things dispite disagreeing with their view shows dedication to the 1st amendment. I hated the views of Westboro, acknowledged they had the right to express those views, but hoped that people would stop paying attention to them, giving them the attention they desired. In regards to Rush, if people stop listening to him he would be dropped. No one is required to listen to him. Freedom of speech does not mean that people are required to agree or listen. People are allowed to be hurt or angered by things other people say. Walk up to a stranger, insult them harshly, and see if saying “hey, 1st amendment, can’t be upset!” It won’t work. The 1st amendment gives us the right to put our feet in our mouths as often as we like, but it doesn’t prevent consequences. That isn’t hypocrisy.

  • Nancy

    It sounds as though you are saying that if one takes action based upon someone’s statements, that one is anti free speech. Surely you jest. Do you mean that we should take no action about statements that we disagree with? What, then, should we take action on?

  • Nancy

    I keep coming back here, hoping for a response from Mr. Clifton. This article was more of a loopy rant than the usually, reasoned, articles, that I am accustomed to.