Letters – Standards of Free Speech, in the U.S. and Abroad – Letter – NYTimes.com
To the Editor:
Don’t fall into the trap that we in Canada have fallen into: that only free speech that doesn’t offend can be considered free speech. This is only a euphemism for censorship.
For those of us in Canada, it is too late. Once censorship has been given the cloak of official acceptability, it’s almost impossible to root out, because the advocacy groups that support it, and that now have the backing of the law, will do everything they can to hold on to their newfound powers.
We have opened a door that we can no longer shut. The United States still has a chance to save itself. Don’t throw it away. Roy Weston
Burnaby, British Columbia
June 12, 2008
I’m liberal on most things, but one issue I’ve always been fairly libertarian on is free speech. Once we decide that we need to outlaw certain kinds of speech as “hate speech,” we need to appoint people to decide what kinds of speech is acceptable, and I will always be against that. We do, of course, have judges to decide when “speech” becomes action, such as in cases of libel, inciting violence, or the classic “fire” in a crowded theater. But, that very limited scope of authority–of deciding exactly when you are acting rather than merely speaking–is what prevents judges from being able to overreach and decide what people can say or think.
Besides that, I absolutely loathe the argument that minorities need to be protected from public humiliation, or somesuch. Yes, I hate it when dumb, anti-transsexual, hateful, thoughtless garbage turns up in my Google News feed (which you can find to your right), but I never, ever want people standing up and declaring themselves to be my sole protection from idiots with keyboards. I don’t want people saying, oh, poor little Tina, she’s a woman, or she’s transsexual, we need to protect her from all those mean people out there who are saying bad things. Outlawing tasteless, thoughtless speech in the name of protecting minorities is essentially saying they are children who cannot stand up for themselves, and if you say that, I will personally plant Jennifer Granholm’s high-heeled shoe onto your behind. I’m a big girl, I can look out for myself.
I should say… those nasty words hurt, of course, but I’d much rather you stand up for me (and it does mean a lot!) by saying different, better things, and changing the dialogue from one that demeans people’s differences to one that celebrates all kinds of people. But… we can’t deal with lingering hate and resentment if people clam up and are afraid to talk because they don’t want to branded a bigot, or worse, carted off to jail to “protect minorities” from simple ignorance. The completely stupid and clueless things that were said about Thomas Beattie, the famous “pregnant man” (a concept more or less unremarkable in the trans community), were annoying, but I knew that people had to get the dumb stuff out of their systems (a pregnant man, how novel!) before we could move on into a new, more enlightened era. Similarly, I know that if somebody wants to put out the I Hate Tina Russell Gazette, where they declare me to be some vicious, he-she man-beast, it’s their right and my time would be better spent appealing to people’s intelligence, kindness, and sincerity–counteracting the hate–than define myself by attempting to shut the detractors down. (In fact, if I spent my time trying to shut my detractors down, I would forever be known as the woman who totally denies being a vicious, he-she man-beast.)