The Limits of Free Speech in a World of Slander and Libel

The Constitution guarantees the Right of Free Speech to all citizens.  This includes bigots, sexists, members of all sorts of Isms, pedophiles, rapists, fascists, and any of the myriad assholes hellbent on saying exactly what they think of you and your bullshit.

If we want to to be able to say what we want in our Free Society, we have to accept that "they" get to say whatever "they" want and defend to the teeth "their" right to do so.  That's the grease that makes the machine churn the butter.

There are, however, reasonable limits to this right as detailed by the body we employ to interpret this Constitution of ours.

You do not have the right to:

An important distinction is the consequences of Free Speech.  It is a right from the government not private enterprise.  A company deciding that your white supremacist website is so toxic that it refuses to do business with you is NOT an abridgment of Free Speech.  It is NOT censorship in the legally binding way.

Things get sticky when we consider the flexible boundaries between Freedom of Speech and Discriminatory Practices.  Is a tire salesman who refuses to sell tires to a neo-Nazi exercising his Freedom or is he Discriminating based on a set of beliefs?

discrimination - Legal Definition. The act of denying rights, benefits, justice, equitable treatment, or access to facilities available to all others, to an individual or group of people because of their race, age, gender, handicap or other defining characteristic.

It's that odd phrase "other defining characteristics" that makes it sticky.

Is the school that prohibits a student from wearing a shirt with "Black Lives Matter" on it discriminating against her or abridging her freedom of speech?  Given that the school is technically a government agency, likely both.  Is the local pub refusing to serve her because of the same shirt in the same boat?

Now take it to the Bilious Swamp of Social Media.  Is calling someone who has not demonstrated anything racist or sexist a racist and a sexist online libel?  Is the platform then suspending the name-caller's account an abridgment of Free Speech or Discrimination?

Online, I can legally:

  • Suggest I heard that you were looking at kiddie porn in a booth at a local bar.
  • Call you a racist (because that is one all-encompassingly hard to disprove label...)
  • Accuse you of just about anything I want to without regard to facts or proof.
  • Start a hashtag that mocks you relentlessly.
  • Use your real name, post your private emails to me as well as your phone number and address.

Because of the physical distance involved in sitting on your ass, typing your insults prevents the possibility of immediate brick bat wielding, you can say things online that would provoke a reasonable person to violence without legal consequence.

I tend to view almost any claim of abridgment of Free Speech with more skepticism than I do claims of Discrimination but I am not a legal scholar nor am I in any position to affect decisions regarding such.

So, when I hear about the Breitbart website claiming their Freedom of Speech has been violated because Kellogg's decides to tell them to keep their nasty blood money, I'm not buying what they're selling.  If, however, Kellogg's refused to hire a neo-Nazi, that'd be discrimination.

Having rights is such a pain in the ass.