I must confess to having some trouble understanding “free speech” as it applies in America. I know most Americans see it as a fundamental right, it’s in the Constitution after all, albeit as an afterthought. It’s as zealously defended by its supporters as those who zealously defend the right to bear arms. It’s an absolute with no exceptions. So it’s deemed an infringement on free speech to stop protesters picketing at funerals for military personnel and causing deep upset to those mourning their loss. It’s also an infringement on free speech to stop drug manufacturers buying patient records to use in sales and marketing campaigns without the consent of the patients. And it’s an infringement on free speech to prevent a corporation spending as much money as it likes to influence the outcome of an election.
The US Supreme Court has in the past year ruled all of those things and more besides. It has seized the free speech agenda with a vengeance and ridden rough-shod over any other right whenever they come in conflict. I think these rulings are ill-founded and are doing great harm to America. I know from my experience debating on forums that free speech does not extend to criticising free speech. If I imply that free speech should be used responsibly in the same way that guns or alcohol should be used responsibly, my right to free speech is curtailed. It seems that urging responsibility is irresponsible. I don’t believe there is a right to incite racial hatred, or for paedophiles to groom children, or to tell barefaced lies. But to say so seems to be denying the right of free speech to others.
The problem, it seems to me, is that while the US Constitution created three distinct branches of government – the legislature, executive, and judiciary – the judiciary has strayed too far into creating law instead of interpreting and applying it. Thus the Supreme Court makes rulings that are apparently contrary to what the people wish for, it grants rights where the Constitution never intended a right to be granted, and it removes rights which the Constitution intended should be protected. The most abstruse definitions of “free speech” are employed to trump all other rights and privileges. Take for example, the decision to invalidate a California law intended to regulate the sale of violent video games to children. Where does protecting children come in the Constitution? Nowhere, according to the Supreme Court, and doing so infringes on children’s right to free speech.
I’m not making it up, that’s the reason they gave.