Say it. Feel the words in your mouth. Understand that two other words don’t exist on this planet that have the power that those two word have. The changes those two words have wrought are immeasurable and globally significant…they alone have changed more lives than any other words ever uttered, blogged about, written down or otherwise communicated.
There are two key parts to the phrase; free and speech. When you think of the word “free” you don’t ever think “well, some cost but mostly free” or “in some situations, based on who is nearby, maybe not totally free” or “based on where it’s said, which institution owns the joint, it’s not really free.”
Free as in without constraint, without condition or proscribed or situational controls. Free. Free. Free. And then we have the word “speech”. Speech doesn’t just mean what is vocally said but also any idea that can be expressed between one human and another.
A cartoon, for instance.
Or an advertisement or editorial or pamphlet handed out on the street or a senator droning on monotonously in Congress or a commencement speaker at a university and on and on and on…
The very instance the word “free” no longer means unrestricted or unrestrained…the very moment that it becomes burdened with some persons idea of control and limitation then it becomes useless to a free people. It becomes (AGAIN!!) the tool of the powerful to be used to oppress the weak.
I’ve seen and heard people say that it was irresponsible for Charlie Hebdo to publish the cartoons of Mohammed because they were poking a bear, that they should have known that there would be retaliation. Possibly violence. Quite possibly…
Which is exactly why they needed to publish those cartoons.
You can write laws against people yelling “fire” in a crowded theater or against people writing lies designed to hurt others or unfairly gain reward, etc. but you cannot conditionalize freedom of speech or freedom of the press. You cannot arbitrarily limit what people can and can’t say in the public forum because the second you do, the very moment that that happens then all of the despots and theocracies and dictatorships on the planet are vindicated in their belief that they alone should be allowed to control ideas.
You give them that power.
Without the free flow of ideas then we’re all done for and back where we started…
…back where people who promote Sharia Law want us to be.