Sunday, March 09, 2008

PROTECTING FREE EXPRESSION

The most immediate threat to civil liberties in America is the notion the subjective feelings should be protected by government power. There is presently a campaign to purge both public and private discourse of "offensive" speech and images, and to limit expression based solely on the potential emotional response of the audience. This is not merely a question of interpretation regarding freedom of speech; it is fundamentally an issue of the appropriate use of govenrment force in regulating discourse.

There is no right to not be offended. There is no valid governmental authority that would protect an individual from the expression of another. There is, however, and this must be repeated as clearly as possible, a right to engage in offensive expression. This is true even if such expression is for the sole purpose of causing offense.

Refraining from injuring or offending the subjective sensibilities of others is a matter of manners and good character, not a proper invocation of the police power. The government has no legitimate interest in the impossible task of guarding against hurt feelings, regardless of whether one perceives insult based on race, religion, sexual orientation, political affiliation or any other grounds. Free expression is more important than individual feelings.

The legal actions for libel and slander protect reputation, not feelings. There is no such thing as objectively offensive because offense is subjective. Regulations, such as the odious speech codes that afflict college campuses, that seek to guard subjective sensitivities have an ever-changing object, and thus lose one of the main benefits of having regulations and laws: predictability in application.

Defense of civil rights necessarily entails defending the unpopular and even repugnant, and this is true in the case of offensive speech. Institutions cannot be guarantors of our feelings; they only cause harm and injustice when they try to be. There is something quite insidious and corrosive about an institution forcing someone to defend his thoughts against a charge that someone's feelings were hurt by them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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「朵
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