Both on the Internet and in the physical world, people with unpopular or poorly thought out opinions may complain that their freedom of speech is being restricted because others express their distaste for those opinions. As a defense, these individuals may invoke the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which provides, among other things, freedom of speech for any entity or person under legal jurisdiction of the U.S. More specifically, it states that "Congress shall make no law [...] abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press". Originally intended as a restriction on the powers of U.S. federal government, which the Constitution defines, structures, and delimits, over time the First Amendment, as well as several others, were "incorporated" via the Fourteenth Amendment to apply to state and local governments as well. This protection of free speech, however, does not extend to illegal activities (for example, the concept of a "clear and present danger"), and it does not compel others to listen to or acknowledge the speech. The intended targets of the speech may simply choose to stop listening, or to speak louder in protest.
The title text points out the irony of anyone appealing to free speech as a defense for their argument or opinion. If the only thing that someone can say in support of an argument is effectively that it is not illegal, then they are severely undermining it by essentially admitting that they don't have any better defense for it.
It should be noted that the first panel of this comic conflates, under certain schools of thought about justice and rights, a right such as free speech and the legal protections of such. Many viewpoints consider rights to be granted by the government; others consider rights to be innate regardless of what the government does. The former is frequently reflected throughout governments in Europe while the latter is more common throughout the Americas. According to the former, the first panel is technically correct by definition, because the right of free speech is granted by the government's laws and, as such, can only affect the government's influence: thus, the 1st Amendment grants the right to free speech, which by definition cannot be restricted by congress. According to the latter, the first panel is strictly nonfactual because the 1st Amendment only recognizes that the right of free speech exists and, rather than delimiting the right, it instead proscribes the government's actions. However, between these two school of thought, the remaining panels aren't affected by whether or not the first panel is factual by definition.
It would be nice to mention how this applies only to the Federal government; discussions of how it is enforced on the states may be beyond the scope of this wiki. In addition, it might be amusing to note that freedom of association and other freedoms specified in the Bill of Rights have the same scope. That is, there are very few enumerated powers given to the Federal government, the Bill of Rights specifies some limitations on the Congress - but in general, the restriction on Congress was to the enumerated powers, a concept that made the Bill of Rights redundant - and the Bill of Rights does not apply (as written) to anyone but the Federal government. 126.96.36.199 20:08, 18 April 2014 (UTC)
- The First Amendment also applies to the various State governments (including their subsidiaries, such as local governments) through the Incorporation Doctrine, which is based on the Fourteenth Amendment (which is about the States). To be sure, the text of the Fourteenth Amendment doesn't spell out this doctrine, so the whole thing is a bit of a stretch, but it's how the courts interpret it now. This (along with the courts' broad interpretation of the enumerated powers) makes the Bill of Rights far from redundant (and I for one am happy to have it applied as broadly as possible). —TobyBartels (talk) 23:55, 18 April 2014 (UTC)
- I have attempted to address some of the concerns you raised by editing the first paragraph. Please feel free to edit/improve my work. Orazor (talk) 11:42, 7 October 2014 (UTC)
I've clarified the sentence about the Constitution being a legal document. Legal documents are not necessarily limited to government activity (for example, an apartment lease is a legal document but says nothing about what the government can or cannot do). I added the phrase "that defines the structure and powers of the government" to the end of the sentence. Elsbree (talk) 04:55, 18 April 2014 (UTC)
Another recent event (within the past couple of weeks) was a campaign against Stephen Colbert for an out-of-context quote taken from a bit on his show. It was hash-tagged under "CancelColbert". Interestingly, people from Fox News that had supported the Duck Dynasty guy were completely against Colbert. 188.8.131.52 05:09, 18 April 2014 (UTC)
That door in the last frame is a backdoor to fascism. --Mus (talk) 06:27, 18 April 2014 (UTC)
- Are you related to this woman? LOL.
- Nevertheless, I agree the comic would be stronger and more accurate if it didn't have that last panel. Disagreeing with someone's speech doesn't mean you get to throw them out. Places of public accommodation, such as most businesses, are required to be non-discriminatory. - Frankie (talk) 11:59, 18 April 2014 (UTC)
- Reading-comprehension fail. Read the entire bottom row; it is a complete sentence. Removing the last clause negates the first. — Fluffy Buzzard (talk) 14:38, 18 April 2014 (UTC)
- Businesses are allowed to throw people out for almost any reason. The non-discriminatory clause has nothing to do with what people say, and isn't even tangential to the First Amendment. And yes. Disagreeing with someone in your domain does mean you get to throw them out. In fact, you can throw them out if you do agree with them. Or don't know them. Or if they're your brother. 184.108.40.206 21:25, 18 April 2014 (UTC)
Can someone add something saying that other countries also have similar laws on free speech? I would do it myself, but I'm new to editing the wiki and I wouldn't know how to word it. Cheeselord99 (talk) 07:19, 18 April 2014 (UTC)
- I would if there was some sort of summary of them available. Though there's the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from the UN, I don't think it specifically requires any entity (such as a government body) to do (or not do) anything, just like I understand most anything U.N. related to be. I believe it's a guide/declaration/definition/resolution/statement of belief, and it would then be up to any soverienty to actually enforce or comply with it. Brettpeirce (talk) 12:08, 18 April 2014 (UTC)
- "Can someone add something saying that other countries also have similar laws on free speech?" Are you implying that you think ALL other countries have similar laws, or SOME other countries have similaar laws? Saying that the local dictator sucks, or that the local religion is bullshit is certainly not protected free speech in many, many countries. --RenniePet (talk) 23:07, 21 April 2014 (UTC)
This is going to be one of those XKCDs everyone is linking to, to make a point.Jkrstrt (talk) 08:27, 18 April 2014 (UTC)
Though, I will say, I'm a bit concerned that the point people may be making is that "Argumentum ad Populum" is totally legit, as there is a suggestion one could infer that if a bunch of people are mad at you for something you say you deserve to be shown the door. And I'm not sure that's the intended message, and even if it is, I'm not sure it's a good one. Speaking an uncomfortable or undesired truth to a community (Which will almost certainly anger them, and make them think you're an asshole, let's say) doesn't mean the door is an appropriate response. On the other hand, when speaking such truths, one probably has a better justification than "Because Free Speech," just hopefully the disgruntled masses will actually listen to it.220.127.116.11 10:49, 18 April 2014 (UTC)
- That's the point, if your only defense is "Free Speech" - you should be shown the door. --Jeff (talk) 15:05, 18 April 2014 (UTC)
- Obviously, no one making an argument personally thinks the only defense is "it is not illegal for me to say this". Other people, defending him afterwards, do not agree with the argument but are offended by censorship of his argument. Democrats think there are no merit to Republican arguments, and most Republicans think there are no merit to Democrat arguments; by your logic, a Democrat defending a Republican's right to hold a job, attend college, go to grocery stores, and generally be tolerated, is being hypocritical and should actually believe Republicans should be shown the door. Imagine what a shit world we'd live in if everyone wanted to show the door to people they disagreed with. 18.104.22.168 00:57, 12 June 2015 (UTC)
Both Jeff and 22.214.171.124 are accurate. 126.96.36.199's example of an uncomfortable or undesired truth causing anger is possible. It's up the the messenger to make sure that they frame the point properly and use appropriate supporting materials to justify their claims. A messenger with bad news won't say "free speech," they will say "this is the evidence" if they want to avoid being shown the door. 188.8.131.52 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
- The issue, of course, is that a lot of people aren't willing to listen to evidence when told things they don't want to hear. Say, I dunno, if you're hanging out on a particularly conservative forum where people are taking turns bashing "Obamacare," even if you have a perfectly rational, backed up by numbers, etc. reason to say it may not be all bad, or may even be good, there's a decent chance that you could get shown the door simply because that's an unpopular opinion no matter how good your reasons are. And it's the sort of person who wants to punish someone simply for saying something unpopular on a forum, simply because it's unpopular (Or, in the case of some admins/mods, something they just don't personally like), who I'm concerned about using this comic as rhetorical backup. For the message of this comic to work, the community/etc. has to be willing to listen to rational evidence and they frequently aren't. 184.108.40.206 22:55, 18 April 2014 (UTC)
- Frankly, it would be entirely appropriate for all those sorts of people to use this comic as rhetorical backup. Your "right" to say what you think, free from interference, applies only in public spaces and on your own property. You certainly do not have the right to use other people's media as vehicles for your thoughts. So yes, it is perfectly right (and, incidentally, the only workable solution) for the person who controls the medium to decide what is said on that medium. And it is perfectly right and just for even the most woefully misguided, closed-minded, power-hungry, dogmatic or extremist admin to point to this comic and say: "I'm not willing to broadcast your opinions". That is the whole point. The freedom NOT to disseminate ideas you disagree with is just as fundamental and suffers very few exceptions. 220.127.116.11 00:32, 22 August 2014 (UTC)
Just happened to see this today, thought it was relevant: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJMqYcRgf-A&t=51s 18.104.22.168 16:56, 18 April 2014 (UTC)
This comic has it
completely backwards! There are people who say "You're violating the First Amendment." when they're being censored by somebody who's not the government; they are mistaken, and this comic would be absolutely correct if it were addressing them. But it's not. In fact, it doesn't talk about the First Amendment (or similar provisions in other constitutions or other laws) at all; it talks only about freedom of speech. [ETA April 19: Whoops, that's wrong! The first panel has it backwards, but the third panel is perfectly correct. So my complaint is that the comic conflates freedom of speech and the First Amendment, not that it addresses only freedom of speech.] And if you're being censored on Facebook, or in the privately-owned shopping mall, or wherever, then yes, your freedom of speech is being violated.
It's not illegal, and it may not even be wrong (why should my blog have to display your speech, after all?), but it's still a limitation on your freedom to speak. And if you want to argue that Facebook or the shopping mall (or even my blog) should not do that, then that's a perfectly legitimate position to take. As long as you say nothing about the First Amendment or the like, but instead complain about freedom of speech, then my only response (if I want to respond) is to explain why you shouldn't have free speech on that forum, not some irrelevant blather about the government. —TobyBartels (talk) 23:41, 18 April 2014 (UTC)
- The comic does not address the concept of free speech itself; it addresses the *right* to free speech. Sure, your speech might be restricted on certain forums or in certain communities, but you generally have no actual *right* to free speech there. It's simply that the forum or community does not want to support your ideas. --V2Blast (talk) 02:37, 19 April 2014 (UTC)
- Who decides whether that is a right or not? 22.214.171.124 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
- Rights aren't just for governments. Any entity can grant you rights and then uphold or violate them. (Facebook actually calls its terms of service a "Statement of Rights and Responsibilities", which it is, even though it's primarily their rights and our responsibilities.) So one might argue that Facebook (as a public forum intended for everybody and everything) ought to grant freedom of speech (which it kind of does, with a few exceptions, but only implicitly), while a personal blog should not (and then there are also forums that should maybe grant freedom of on-topic speech or something like that). People also consider natural rights (which is how the Declaration of Independence treats them, although free speech is not on its list), but personally I think that it's clearer to discuss what rights should be rather than what natural rights are. So if somebody claims that FB (eg) is violating their right to free speech, then at best you have them on a technicality (because that is not a natural right and also not a right explicitly granted by FB), but their real point is that FB is violating their freedom of speech (which FB sometimes really does, including in ways that its terms of service does not authorize, hence various complaints from time to time like this one). —TobyBartels (talk) 17:30, 19 April 2014 (UTC)
I see 2 ironies:
1. Those from the BGLT+ side tend to use the 'Free Speech' argument, too.
2. This was posted in Good Friday.
Greyson (talk) 23:52, 18 April 2014 (UTC)
- On the first irony, I think this article rather misrepresents the uproar around the Duck Dynasty incident (which is mentioned in the article explanation). It wasn't just that people felt the guy's rights were violated (the merits of which argument I am not commenting on), but that A&E essentially ambushed him after he gave an opinion, in an interview, that no one should expect he didn't have. It's essentially the same issue with the Chik-fil-a incident, where people became extremely angry over an open Christian donating money to anti-gay groups, even though he was doing so for several years previously. It's not just the first amendment rights, it's that A&E, a company who is so prideful about being open minded and tolerant with the BGLT community, would drop the hammer so hard on someone who was already well-known for having opposite opinions. The point is, while A&E does technically have the right to show the Duck Dynasty guy the door, they cannot seriously do so without seriously undermining their own reasons for firing him. 126.96.36.199 18:49, 19 April 2014 (UTC)
I've had the situation where I express disagreement with someone and they accuse me of violating their right of free speech. A possible response to this, which I wouldn't actually use, is "I absolutely defend your First Amendment right to behave like a jerk." Mark314159 (talk) 15:14, 19 April 2014 (UTC)
Well, while it is correct to say that the kind of actions talked about in this comic don't violate the First Amendment, it's not at all beside the point to point out that there are problems with the free speech involved. Basically, Randall Munroe is repeating a popular line of argument these days, and one that unfortunately sidesteps the entire issue of whether non-state entities can be censors. If you think the issue through for more than two seconds, it's pretty clear that they can be. Take for example some group of armed thugs physically threatening a journalist. (Hardly a hypothetical - there's a lot of that going on in the world today.) If they don't represent a government, according to a strict interpretation of the argument just made in the above xkcd, they're just providing consequences and "showing the door" to someone who's speech they don't like. So, obviously, there are very clearly non-state actions that amount to censorship.
OK, what about non-violent actions? That still can run into a lot of grey areas. Most certainly, nobody owes anybody else the use of their venue or platform for someone else to make their point - *that* would be a violation of free speech rights to be compelled to do so. And certainly, boycotts of those who's views one disagrees with in order to influence public opinion have a solid history in democratic societies. What is problematic, however, and crosses the line into a kind of privatized censorship is the kind of "no platform" activism that seems to be in fashion these days, that seeks to deny *any* venue to those who are deemed to have unacceptable views or are practicing "hate speech" - slippery and ever-expanding concepts, it seems to me. Who is it that should have the power to "show the door" into outright silencing? BTW, a recent blog post raises these concerns in response to the above cartoon here, and I blogged about this at length last year here in regards to some of the more censorious actions of Ada Initiative. Iamcuriousblue (talk) 04:17, 20 April 2014 (UTC)
- Look, the two concepts you raise are different things. And it's not a government's job to determine which point of view is valid or best, or even to protect or promote that PoV. The point is that the U.S. government (in this case) must remain un-hostile (if that's a word) to dissenting points of view. In fact, especially towards dissenting points of view. Thugs threatening journalists? I agree that's a problem. And the state/local government (in most cases) should do its best to prevent this kind of coercion. The overarching principle is that within the U.S. is that we want to create as open a marketplace for ideas as possible. That marketplace structure does not determine the value of a speech's content. It simply allows it to exist.
- So the USG can't prevent others from not listening, or even from telling a speaker to shut up. You must see that this cannot be the role of a government that is seeking to promote open and constructive discourse. Because once the government starts favoring one PoV or providing "more favored treatment" for, let's say, your coerced journalist, then it is condoning or supporting that particular speech over others. And that, if you think about it for more than two seconds, is in itself infringing on the very same free speech guarantee. Orazor (talk) 11:42, 7 October 2014 (UTC)
In fact, there are (admittedly rare) situations in which the "right to free speech" can require a private entity to host a speaker. Marsh v. Alabama involved a Jehovah's Witness handing out literature in a company town completely owned by a corporation. The Supreme Court held that because the admittedly private spaces in a company town were akin to public spaces, the company could not enforce a trespassing law against the Jehovah's Witness without violating the First Amendment. So long as one is talking about the "right to free speech" (which goes beyond the First Amendment), the Pruneyard Shopping Center case, in which a mall owner was forced to allow participation by a speaker due to a California law expanding free speech rights in commercial areas, serves as another example of where a private entity can be forced to accommodate another's speech. 188.8.131.52 10:25, 21 April 2014 (UTC)
TL;DR --Dgbrt (talk) 18:52, 21 April 2014 (UTC)
A very recent article that pretty much shreds this comic. XKCD is usually on point, but this one goes a bit too far. http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2014/04/22/freedom_to_marry_freedom_to_dissent_why_we_must_have_both_122376.html 184.108.40.206 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
I find it very disturbing that one of the most popular science-themed comics on the Internet gives a free pass to the Catholic church like this. The Catholic church is not a government, it is an international cultural institution, therefore, if the Catholic church bans people, ideas, speech, and behavior from all domains of its organizational influence, this comic clearly supports such a move. (I doubt the author needs a primer on that part of history.) The stated position that free speech only means that government can't come after you, but cultural institutions can and you just need to be quiet and leave if you disagree with that. 220.127.116.11 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
- As an atheist, the Catholic church's policies have no relevance to me. I do not visit Catholic churches, I do not attend Catholic schools, and I do not use Catholic businesses. If anyone doesn't like what they do, they -can- just leave. When enough people are fed up, they'll be a cultural institution of zero. Or one, or whatever. A number too small to have any bearing on society at large. Unless you're suggesting that people somehow have a right to impose things on someone else's property, which is false. 18.104.22.168 09:54, 1 May 2014 (UTC)
- I believe that Randall made this comic without fully thinking of the implications of the stance it takes. I mean, it certainly is a backlash against currently so-called homophobic (I have problems with this word) community, but it also essentially justifies a whole lot of other stuff this society wouldn't deem right. 22.214.171.124 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
- I'd like to explain all the ways I think this comic is ridiculous- if, indeed, he;s talking about what everyone thinks he's talking about:
- 1. His casual and condescending dismissal of actual, seriously held points of view as mere trolling.
- 2. His pretending that all these debates are about is so much trolling, akin to a website choosing to remove someone disruptive.
- 3. Every who's protested this has stressed that they have no argument that Mozilla had a legal right to do as they please; they are making a more moral argument. To many, alas, *anything* is government action or it's nothing at all, so moral arguments, interestingly, end up having no weight.
- 4. Many on the "other side" have had no problem calling "Freedom of Speech!" with little to no actual legal basis. Turnabout is...
- 5. Those same people have often had no issue with actual repression even when government (e.g., a state university) is involved. One wonders what the argument would be like if, say, Woolworth's refused to serve blacks at their lunch counters. Oh wait. Well, turnabout again.
- That's most of what I can think of off the top of my head.126.96.36.199 20:52, 23 April 2014 (UTC)
HAAY GUISE I HAS A OPINON AND YOU ALL MUST LISTEN TO ME OKAY HERE GOES WAIT DON'T DELETE ME WAAAGH!!! 188.8.131.52 06:16, 26 April 2014 (UTC)
How recent was the Clippers scandal in relation to this comic? I just saw on Facebook's trending bar that sponsors are pulling away so they won't be associated with racism, and people are crying about the First Amendment. 184.108.40.206 05:03, 29 April 2014 (UTC)
- Off topic — Free Speech Schtonk!
At The Great Dictator, the greatest movie Charlie Chaplin ever did, the Führer shouts: "Demokratsie Schtonk! Liberty Schtonk! Free Sprekken Schtonk!“ The word Schtonk! was also used as the title of a satirical German movie, retelling the hoax of the Hitler Diaries.--Dgbrt (talk) 18:59, 29 April 2014 (UTC)
"The 1st amendment doesn't shield you from criticism or consequences." - Of course it doesn't, I live in the UK --220.127.116.11 18:41, 17 February 2015 (UTC)
Little disturbed that nobody else has called out the specious defense that shouting fire in a crowded theatre actually is. If you want to use something like that to prove that not all speech is free, go for it, but it's a pretty weak argument, especially considering the very judge that ruled on it recanted several years later in a later decision. Protesters got the right to protest, yo. --18.104.22.168 23:53, 10 April 2015 (UTC)
Conversation on a mincraft server:
Moderator: Please stop
Idiot: No, I have the right to free speech!
Moderator: And we have the right to ban you
Ironically, the title text also applies in the other direction. "If I don't like your speech, I can respond by unfriending you, boycotting you, etc. The First Amendment only limits government action; what I'm doing *isn't illegal*! 22.214.171.124 12:06, 27 September 2016 (UTC)
The reference to Schenck completely mischaracterizes it. The defendants were convicted of urging draft resistance, and their conviction had nothing to do with allegations that they were lying. They were convicted of opposing Wilson's war and the laws that forced people to fight in it. The expression "shouting fire in a crowded theater" has since then been a popular way for censorship advocates to justify all sorts of prohibitions on speech.
Munroe is wrong. The right to free speech means a lot more than "the government can't arrest you for what you say." It means the government can't discriminate against people based on their views. It can't deny them jobs, block them from using a public forum, or punish students of government-run universities on the basis of what they say. If the only thing the First Amendment only stopped the government from arresting dissidents, we'd have all kinds of censorship.
Munroe's suggestion that views which provoke yelling or boycotting are "bullshit" is also disturbing. Gmcgath (talk) 11:58, 6 December 2016 (UTC)
This comic shows that Munroe, at the time at least, fell for the common error of confusing an objection about human rights with an objection about legal rights. Anybody who spends time saying unpopular things will realize that it is most often the community, not the government, that moves to restrict your freedoms when you have an unpopular position. This sounds perfectly acceptable and even just to people holding the majority position, but it displays a certain naivety that they don't consider what it would be like if they found themselves in the minority. Freedom of Speech does not originate from the First Amendment; it is a universal ideal that was incorporated into the First Amendment, as it was realized that the government is an organization with sufficient power to oppress people with minority views. Similarly, any other organization with the power to oppress those with minority views is morally obligated to adopt similar policies of open discourse, just as the government was. The Title text is the most egregious part, in that it gets the situation completely bass-ackwards. Contrary to what he was once told - that citing freedom of speech when told to shut up is the ultimate concession that you don't have a good argument - it is the person attempting to silence you that has admitted they have no good argument. To delete, silence, or ban someone is to admit that you cannot address their words with words of your own. It's frankly baffling that Munroe would express this view when it is quite contrary to the views expressed in pretty much everything else he produces. 126.96.36.199 17:16, 23 April 2017 (UTC)