What is Freedom of Speech?
Freedom of speech is a negative right. This means having freedom from something, or that the right imposes a negative duty from others – i.e. they do not have to do anything for you to be able to enjoy the freedom.
In practical terms, this means that you have the right to say and believe anything you want as far as peaceful statements are concerned, and that others, including the government, have no right to prevent you doing so. Nor are others obligated to give you a soapbox, and you have no right not to be contradicted.
Protecting the Controversial
Freedom of speech means that the constitutional government must protect people who say things others do not like, and who are subject to threats and violence. Many would probably want Nazis, communists, Islamists, Christian fundamentalists, liberalists, anarchists, or other groups to be prevented from expressing unpopular opinions, but as long as these are not encouraging criminal acts, it must be tolerated.
Freedom of speech is first and foremost intended for controversial statements. Saying that you love nature is unlikely to offend anyone. Saying that you are a racist, on the other hand, can provoke some reactions.
It is this right to state one’s opinion that must be protected. Freedom of thought is precisely a prerequisite of a free society, and banning certain statements – and indirectly thoughts – is a step toward a totalitarian state.
Violence is not Speech
Using violence against others is not covered by freedom of speech. This includes, for instance, you standing in a bank telling them that it is bank robbery, or you threatening another person.
Psychological violence, such as threats, limits the right of others to live freely. If you are subject to death threats, this reduces your freedom of choice in life, and this is not acceptable in civilized society.
Therefore, you could say that freedom of speech is a matter of peaceful activity – meaning acts and statements that do not prevent others from thinking freely.
Ultimately, freedom of speech means that you do not have the right not to be offended.
- Freedom of speech is a negative right
- This means that others have to let you express yourself in peace
- However, this does not mean that others must give you a soapbox
- Freedom of speech is intended for controversial opinions – often things we do not like to hear
- Violence and threats are not covered by freedom of speech
- You do not have a right not to be offended