The Complexity of Free Speech

The subject of free speech is one that could fill a book, in fact several books have been written about it.  I guess the best place to start in any discussion of free speech is by looking at the US and state constitutions.

 The first amendment of the federal constitution reads as follows:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

 The 22nd amendment of the NH Constitution reads as follows:

"Free speech and liberty of the press are essential to the security of freedom in a state: They ought, therefore, to be inviolably preserved."

 Fairly clear and straight forward.  Neither the federal government nor the state government can create laws to outlaw speech in any way.

But does that mean you can say anything you want anywhere you want?

Simply put, no.  For instance we all know it is illegal to yell fire in a crowded theater, but is it the speech that's illegal?  Of course not.  Yelling fire in a crowded theater creates a clear and present danger to those who believe there is a fire and could lead to their harming themselves of others fleeing.  Penn from Penn and Teller proved that is the case by yelling fire in the theater he and Teller were performing in, and in their case since they had just lit a copy of the US Constitution on fire they were even telling the truth.  No one came to arrest Penn for the act because no one jumped up and ran out.  He did not create a clear and present danger with his speech.  The best way to explain this is that it isn't the speech but the action that is illegal. 

That is why the court allowed a group who openly admit to wanting abortion doctors killed to list their names, home address and personal information and even cheer on those who kill them because while they are saying this openly they are not engaging in the action of doing it.  (Nuremberg Files)

The action of where you engage in exercising your right to free speech also is a factor.  I can stand in a public road and say what I want.  I cannot come into your home and say what I want.  Does that mean my speech is being censored?  No, I can still say what I want I just cannot say what I want in any forum I wish.  However if you give me permission into your home I can say what I want even if others in your home are offended and/or upset with what I am saying.  Since it is your home, they have no right to kick me out of it.  You however would.  Taking this example to a different forum, this would be the equivalent of a news paper choosing to either print or not print a letter to the editor.  Since the paper is their private domain they can choose to censor certain views, words, pictures etc.  Does that make them anti free speech?  Not necessarily, it is just limiting the forum in which you can exercising your speech.  If the paper was pushing to have certain points of views band so they could no longer be expressed then yes they would be anti free speech.

I guess it can be best summed up in a quote by H.L. Menken, "Freedom of Press is limited to those who own one."  Everyone has the freedom of speech and freedom of the press but you do not have the freedom of someone else's press.  It is for that reason I do not see any contradiction in deleting posts within my own articles which distract from the main discussion or are completely off topic.  If you choose to link to porn sites or post cigarette ads, I will delete them.  I support your right to supply porn and your right to sell cigarettes and advertise them in any ways you wish, I just do not wish to allow it on the forums I have control over.  Likewise, if you choose to post off topic or choose to rant about something that has nothing to do with what I'm writing, I may also choose to delete it.  There are plenty of other venues in which you can express such things and I'll fully support your doing so assuming they are public or a venue you control or have permission in.