Free speech comes at a price – Spectrum News

Posted: August 16, 2017 at 6:00 pm

Free speech isn't an absolute and it doesn't mean you can say whatever you want whenever you want.

"First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects freedom of speech. The protection is mainly from the government, and it doesn't protect against the consequences of the freedom of speech," saidJohn Elmore, a legal analyst.

Because of the First Amendment protections, it's rare that a government will deny a permit to assemble, even if it is for a recognized hate group, like the White Nationalists who organized the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend. Plus, those groups can sue if their assembly permit is denied. But the government can restrict a protest to a certain place and time.

"The court has always had the ruling that if the government restricts speech based on the content of that speech, they have a very high standard. And it is very reluctant to allow that restriction," saidPeter Yacobucci, Ph.D., a SUNY Buffalo State political science associate professor.

The exceptions to freedom of speech include incitement, defamation, fraud, obscenity and lies, just to name a few. And there's a fine line between freedom to spew hate speech and inciting violence.

"For hate speech, as long as nobody is acting on it, it's still protected. If people are acting on it, we can say this person was engaging in incitement and incitement, we have laws against," saidClairissa Breen, Ph.D., a SUNY Buffalo State criminal justice professor.

Yacobucci added, "If a common person understood it that they were being directed to that violence, then the speech can be restricted, but that's a pretty high standard. To just say, 'I want to kill that person,' that's not a enough to be a threat. There has to be something substantial behind it."

Elmore said, "No matter how untasteful the language is, that's protected speech."

But freedom of speech and assembly rights can be revoked if things turn violent. Plus, freedom of speech doesn't protect you from potential consequences.

"A private employer may be embarrassed by extreme political views of a person that is publicized, somebody that publicizes their Nazi views, their KKK views, extreme racist views. The government says you can say those things, but a private employer has the right to discharge an employee because that would affect their business," said Elmore.

But for government employees, it's more of a gray area. If the hate speech is something that could affect the way they do their job, like a police officer, they would be at risk for getting fired.

Free speech comes at a price - Spectrum News

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