You are free to shout “fire” in a crowded theater. All you have to do is be prepared to accept the consequences — for example, time in jail or prison, and/or civil suits by people injured in the ensuing panic, or their survivors.
You are free to blame a madman’s actions on your political adversaries. All you have to do is be prepared to accept the consequences — for example, looking like a damn fool when the madman’s friends confirm he was apolitical and paid no attention to your adversaries.
Freedom comes with responsibility, accountability for your words and actions. It’s not always easy to speak your mind publicly, because just as you have every right to express your views, those who hear have every right to offer their opinions in response. Sometimes other people’s opinions of yours won’t be pleasant.
Never mind what Big Brother said, freedom is the opposite of slavery. The solution to foolish or angry words is a reasoned response. The solution is not silencing the foolish or angry speaker by the force of new law – and the solution is certainly not violence. Not ever.
Freedom is not for the faint of heart. Freedom of speech means sometimes we will hear things we’d rather not hear. Stupid and/or evil folks will abuse freedom, and you can count on that. But the actions of a few do not justify stealing freedom from the many.
Freedom is not a gift of government. You were born with certain, inherent rights. Governments are formed to secure these rights, not create them. The most tyrannical government cannot remove these rights, although (as governments are designed to do) it may impede the exercise of freedom, and often does.
Freedom is the default mode of a human being. We relinquish our freedoms at our own peril. Think hard before you advocate for restricting any of them.
Originally posted Jan. 13, 2011