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Free Speech

December 17, 2008 - 12:00am
Nick Coons by Nick Coons


Libertarians support the rights of individuals to unrestricted free speech and freedom of the press. This, like other libertarian positions, is based on the principle of self-ownership, and being able to make your own decisions so long as you harm no one else. What exactly does this mean? What about yelling "fire" in a crowded theater?

"Unrestricted" in this context means "unrestricted by government."  It means that government cannot make any law infringing on the individual's right to speech, because speech itself causes no harm to anyone.

What about yelling "fire" in a theater, or spreading misinformation about someone in order to harm them?  In a free society, these issues are all addressed by libertarian principles without government restricting speech.

For instance, speech can be limited by property owners on their property.  If I come in to your house, you can make rules about what can and cannot be said, and ask me to leave if I don't abide by these rules.  Most of us do this today, even if only implicitly.  Likewise, a theater is private property, and in the interest of safety and customer satisfaction, a theater owner can remove or even ban an individual from re-entry if they become a nuisance.

Fraud is also a no-no in a free society, so intentionally spreading misinformation can be prevented or prosecuted on those grounds without an explicit restriction on the freedom of speech.

The original intent of the concept of free speech and a free press was because the founders believed it important that individuals have the right to dissent from government.  Previous forms of government often considered it a criminal offense to denounce those in power.  Today, we understand the importance of speaking out against government actions when we believe they are wrong.  Libertarians believe that it's important to use reason to persuade others, not force and coercion to make them bend to your will.

Related Content:

Is The United States Built on a Foundation of Christian Principles? - Kimberly Ruff
The Catharsis of the American Civil War: How the Near Division of the United States Served to Strengthen the Union - Kimberly Ruff
First Amendment Resources - Richard Sutton

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