Does Anybody Believe In Free Speech Anymore?

       Once in awhile somebody sends
me an e-mail asking something like “what made you become a libertarian?”
My answer is simple – libertarians are the only group I know who actually
take the idea of free speech seriously. For the traditional left and the
right, supporting free speech often seems to be largely a political act
– to be against freedom of speech is like being against Mom or apple pie,
but in the end neither group has much of a problem compromising free speech
for their own ends.

       On the right, a prime example
of this is the regular efforts to abridge the First Amendment by making
it illegal to deface the American flag. At the moment I have two flags
squirreled away in a closet – one I received at the death of my grandfather,
who served in World War II, and the other I received at the death of my
father, who won a Silver Star in Vietnam. They fought for freedom, not
to treat those whom they might vehemently disagree with as criminals.
To ban the burning or other defacing of the American flag is so absurd,
it is something that reads like a scene out of Alice In Wonderland.

       Not that the left tends to
be any better. Having finished college not too many years ago and working
at university at the moment, IÂ’ve been always been a bit shocked at left
wingers who like to pretend that “political correctness” is a right wing
myth that doesn‘t exist outside of the minds of paranoid conservatives.
The recent McCarthy-like treatment of an University of Oklahoma professor
amply illustrates the Cold War-like persecution of any sort of dissenting
views from the right on AmericaÂ’s campus.

       This controversy started after
a female student wrote an opinion column in the student newspaper saying
that, “Easy access to a handgun allows everyone in this country . . .
to quickly and easily kill as many random people as they want.” In response
to this, David Deming, associate professor of Geology and Geophysics,
replied in a letter to the editor that “[The female writer’s] easy access
to a vagina enables her to quickly and easily have sex with as many random
people as she wants . . . and spread venereal diseases.”

       For his reductio ad absurdum,
students filed more than twenty sexual harassment complaints against Deming
and the Dean of the College of Geosciences, John T. Snow, blasted Deming
in a letter that accused him of, among other things, lowering morale in
the department and upsetting the university president. In typical politically
correct form, that very letter urged Deming to “show due respect for the
opinions of others.” Apparently Snow, like some of the students at Oklahoma,
is unable to actually consider the arguments he uses but rather just repeats
them as simple platitudes.

       The Supreme Court recently
made both left and right wing activists happy ruling that a ban on nude
dancing does not violate the First Amendment. According to the Supreme
Court, a law requiring erotic dancers to wear pasties and a g-string doesnÂ’t
interfere with the conveyances of their message and so is not inconsistent
with the First Amendment when such a ban also serves an important public
interest (in this case reducing crime and other problem associated with
such establishments).

       The error is the same whether
the limitation on speech is made in the name of the left, the right or
a vague “public interest.” Free speech is a fundamental human right,
not some building block to be tinkered with and limited and expanded as
the state may see fit. The only time speech should ever be limited by
government is when it is necessary to do so to prevent direct, immediate
physical harm to people (such as ordering a trained guard dog to “kill.”)
If it canÂ’t meet that test (which bans on flag burning, reductio ad absurdum
arguments, and completely nude dancing all fail), no interference with
speech should go forward.