You may not be aware of it, but as we speak, freedom of speech is in grave danger in many places normally thought of as "free countries."
In the UK: a couple of evangelists were preaching and passing out literature on a street corner. A police officer said they couldn't do that in a "Muslim area." They were hustled off to the police department, although no charges were filed. The two are challenging the action.
In France: Bridget Bardot has been fined several times for so-called "hate speech" because she disapproves of the Muslim practice of sacrificing animals, and said so publicly.
In Canada: provincial and national Human Rights Panels (named without a trace of irony) are increasingly being used as means to harass and punish people who express ideas that someone finds objectionable. A pastor who wrote a letter to the editor, finding fault with homosexuality has been fined and--incredible yet true--ordered never to speak disparagingly of homosexuals or those who went after him...ever (go here to read the order handed down by the so-called "Human Rights Panel")! A blogger, Ezra Levant, was hauled before one of these tribunals to answer for his decision to publish cartoons that held the prophet Muhammed up to ridicule. McLean's magazine--a major news publication--has been hauled in for publishing a piece by Mark Steyn that someone claimed was "anti-Muslim."
Here's where I stand:
I have no idea what those street evangelists said; I've seen some who were pretty obnoxious. Same with the pastor in Canada, cited for what he said about homosexual persons. I have no idea if what he said was mainstream or extreme, although my quick perusal of his site didn't turn up anything "extreme." I don't know what Levant's motives were for running the cartoons, although I've chosen not to do so. I've seen Steyn's comments online and on TV, but I didn't read the article that generated the complaint.
Whether they were polite or rude, what we deem "acceptable" or note, is beside the point!
This is what "free speech" means. Yes, there are boundaries--obscenity, slander, libel, indecency, incitement to riot--but under American law, the exceptions are few, and the law errs on the side of freedom. I agree it would be nonsensical to treat "free speech" as meaning anything, because then it means nothing.
That said, we can see the idea of free speech is under attack.
We might recall that in the U.S., it is frequently under attack on college campuses, with speech codes and enforced "diversity" and "sensitivity." And we might note that as we speak, the GOP is preparing to nominate, for the presidency, a U.S. Senator who is very proud of legislation curbing political free speech, the so-called McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act. Many who pooh-poohed that legislation said, "don't worry, the courts will strike it down." The President--who during his campaign, pledged to veto it--signed it, almost certainly confident the Supreme Court would do his dirty work. Only the Supreme Court upheld it. The High Court may yet strike it down, but this, combined with other trends, is a cautionary tale.
I realize I'm not saying anything eloquent or profound here--honestly, I don't have time to frame some eloquent defense of free speech. But given what's happening, I think it's time for everyone who believes in freedom to speak up.
I'm for free speech.