Last week there were some spontaneous protests in San Francisco surrounding the BART system. Someone there surmised that protesters were mobilizing themselves by using their cell phones and decided to turn off access to their signal. This generated claims of censorship, with many people saying their freedom of speech rights were being violated.

It seems like it’s time to clarify something for the masses; there is no freedom of speech law. Yeah, I know, some people are going to pull out the 1st Amendment to the Constitution and say that guarantees them the right to say whatever they want to say whenever they want to say it.

Folks, the Constitution doesn’t say that, nor guarantee it. What it says is that Congress can’t pass any laws inhibiting free speech. The goal of those that agreed on that principle was to allow regular people to disagree with what’s going on with the government without worrying about being prosecuted, which is what kept happening in other countries around the world at that time, including England.

That was the only purpose of the “speech” part of the 1st Amendment. Even with that, there are limits on what people can get away with as it pertains to the government. For instance, one can’t advocate violence against the government or any member of Congress without possibly being arrested. That’s why we always hear about people getting arrested and being sentenced for threats against the President and Congress. One can’t advocate violence by a group of people, such as getting a mob together with the purpose of advocating action.

And we all know of a host of other “freedom of speech” laws that have been passed where the concept isn’t true. You can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater. You can’t talk about bombs at an airport. You can’t openly burn a cross on someone’s lawn. You can’t libel or slander anyone. On and on and on.

Anyone who’s ever worked at any company knows there’s certain behavior that’s not allowed in the workplace either. You can’t disclose to others how much money you make. You can’t openly put down other employees. You can’t always disclose how the company is doing to everyone else, or how much money the company is or isn’t making. You can’t disclose anything related to medical issues or if someone’s getting counseling.

Think about your blog, if you have one, or your community wall, or even certain forums you might participate in. For the most part, all of them have rules that you have to adhere to; no one can get away with saying everything. Every owner has the right to set the rules of discourse because they’re paying for it. That’s just how it goes. I’m no different; people can disagree with me on my blogs but if there’s bad language I’m going to remove it and not worry one bit because I’m paying for it and monitoring it and have a policy about it.

Do I agree with any or all policies regarding freedom of speech? Not even close. I don’t believe a company has a right to tell people what they can say on their own time as long as they’re not giving away company secrets. I don’t believe schools can tell teachers what they can do; same with students unless they’re intentionally harassing another student; there always has to be limits after all. I don’t think that with our society today there can be blanket rules for anything.

So we pay for our rights or we’re ready to suffer whatever consequences there are for what we have to say. Either that or temper what we have to say; it’s our choice.
 

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