On Government’s Duty to Secure the Right to Free Speech

I see a lot of people say that free speech is only about what the government does. That is wrong. The First Amendment limits the ways in which government can restrict free speech. But it is not the limit of the right. Private actions can be contrary to free speech, and if we as a society believe in free speech, we need to condemn such actions. And in certain circumstances, the government has a duty to take action to halt or punish acts that interfere with the speech of others, or with the exercise of other fundamental rights. The founding document of our country states the case very clearly: government is established “to secure these rights.” That means more than government not actively interfering in the exercise of those rights. It means taking action against non-government people who unlawfully interfere.

There are, of course, situations where no such government action is appropriate. If two groups are in a public park and one out-chants the other, obscuring the quieter group’s message, then that’s simply free speech v. free speech. But in a situation where a group has legally acquired the right to a forum—by reserving an auditorium or buying a bus ad, for example—we should not countenance people who try to restrict that right, and the government should defend that right. Continue reading