The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Free speech obligation differs from right

John Heiderscheidt missed the nuances between what is morally right and what is politically legal in his Nov. 8 column on free speech.

Far from being a radical proponent of all sorts of speech that result from free speech — one end of the extreme being the right to start a rival, independent paper on campus, and the other extreme being the right to walk down the street shouting racist slogans — Heiderscheidt merely endorses the meaningless political reality of free speech in America.

There are numerous benefits to free speech in a liberal society; it is generally productive for a "free" society to have particular freedoms. Americans are very fond of these freedoms; regarding free speech, people often preface or follow the most stupid of comments with the phrase, "I have a right to say it." Most other Americans agree.

The problem with freedom of speech is not necessarily the procedural freedom in itself, but the results that this freedom has on society. No matter how fond we are of freedom of speech, we need to admit that it is only legally imposed. There is no moral content to the law.

That is to say, what is legal (freedom of speech) has absolutely no impact on what is right (morality).

The outcome is that, when I write, speak, or chant slogans, I do not ask myself "is this view right? Should I hold this view?" Rather, I ask myself, "is someone trampling my right to say this?" This last question is void of any moral content.

Freedom of speech in America does not offer any positive suggestions of content for the absences of government impediments. The most logical legal position that follows from this reality is "I may not agree with what you say," or, "what you say is terribly wrong, offensive, or instigates violence," but, "I do not wish to take away your right to say it."

This logical legal position is the worst possible moral position one can take; it leads not to the condemnation of hateful and harmful beliefs in society but rather the mere condemnation of government intervention in order to stop persons from speaking.

Something has to give in this tension between morality and politics. Most persons will reply, "yes, but who gets to be the judge of right and wrong? Who gets to decide who says what?" There are numerous responses to this question, most of which are too long for this format.

But, I will offer this response: in a true democracy, one in which people are indeed free, the people themselves would take initiative to ban harmful, violent or derogatory statements.

It is easy to see that such derogatory statements exist. Statements of racial hatred are such an example. These statements are not a matter of opinion; they are simply wrong! In a true democracy, people would realize that the content of speech that is morally wrong harms each and every person in that democracy, especially if all citizens are truly to be equal citizens, and free citizens.

I challenge each reader to consider this problem: wouldn't a true democracy have the means to allow truthful freedom and limit content of speech that contradicts the moral needs of the citizenry?

Story continues below advertisement