By Nathan Watts - Guest Writer
Social Media and the topic of what should or should not be posted touches on some very basic subjects that many of us consider to be constitutional rights – the foremost often brought to topic being the “freedom of speech.” I’m going to dissect this, and in the end eviscerate and throw it in the trash. This may surprise you, as I have worn a uniform for twenty years to protect these very liberties we hold dear. However, what I am attempting to show is not that we don’t have the freedom of speech, but that it is simply not an appropriate defense for some of our statements or (class related plug here) posts online.
First, to understand this properly, we need to know what freedom of speech actually is or is not. It is used so often as an offhanded colloquialism that people naively accept that it is an all inclusive statement. It is not. That’s not just my opinion, that’s also the Supreme Courts’ *ruling* as they have specifically stated that freedom of speech is not absolute. As better explained by Dr. Ronald Standler, attorney, in his essay he states “The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution only provides for freedom of speech against regulation by the federal or state government (e.g., a state university). A private employer (e.g., a private university) has no legal requirement to honor the First Amendment” (Standler, 2000).
The issue is that the freedom of speech amendment was specific that it was to protect people from repercussion from the government if they wanted to voice an opinion regarding their governance – which is why we enjoy the ability to hold “marches” whereas in other countries you could be arrested or even killed for that same action. It has nothing to do with whether or not someone has freedom of speech for anything and everything they so desire to say. This is why you can’t go to an airport, see your friend “Richard,” raise your hand and scream “Hi! Jack! This place is the bomb!” without expecting some form of “discussion” from law enforcement.
That’s the technicalities of it – but let’s get into it more esoterically. Let’s say you do have absolute freedom ofspeech – complete by raw definition of “freedom.” I challenge that this is not the same as “freedom of repercussions of what is said.” Say whatever you want, have at it, enjoy yourself – meanwhile I will be reacting to your statement appropriate to what you said. When TLC first removed “Duck Dynasty” from their line up as a response to the anti-gay statements their patriarch made, some individuals of the church I currently go to spewed “That’s against free speech!” and didn’t quite understand why I laughed at them so hard whenever they made those statements. I simply replied “No one took his free speech away – he exercised it. He still has the ability to make the same statements wherever he goes. In turn, they exercised their rights of ownership – TLC is their property and will do as they please with their property. If you come into my house, swear at my wife, I will kick you out of my house. Can you honestly look me in the eye and with full truthful conviction tell me I violated your freedom of speech?”
That’s the crux of it – and brings me to my next point of which this essay is titled for – ” The Straw Man’s Defense.” Ever notice that ninety percent of the time that whenever people scream “freedom of speech!” it’s the only and last defense to inappropriate or uneducated behavior or statements? The vast majority of people who jump on the “freedom of speech” bandwagon are more often than not, people who want to justify inappropriate behavior. The West Burrow Baptists and Ethnic Hate Group speeches are only two of many examples that immediately come to mind. The issue is, that by any other logical or common sense formed argument or counterpoint, these types of speech are not acceptable by the vast majority of society and therefore are not defendable by any other means accept to invoke the magical incantation, “freedom of speech.”
This is “The Straw Man’s Defense” – as explained by Dr. Glen Whitman,”This is the fallacy of refuting a caricatured or extreme version of somebody’s argument, rather than the actual argument they’ve made”(Whitman, 2001) In other words – if someone cannot properly defend their position or behavior, or they know it is simply unacceptable, they purposely deflect from the actual topic and utilize “freedom of speech” as their means to force their voices to be heard – whether or not anyone else likes it.
In closing I say this, and I have said it many times over the years; if the only thing left to a discussion anyone has to defend their statements or behavior is to use the “freedom of speech,” stance, then that person fails by omission of participation to the actual topic at hand. This simply means they no longer have the intellectual aptitude to provide a valid counterpoint to their position and therefore lose the discussion – I accept no quarter.
Whitman, G. (2001, January 29). Logical Fallacies and the Art of Debate.
Logical Fallacies and the Art of Debate. Retrieved June 29, 2014, from
He hails from California and makes his home in the suburban Atlanta Metro area with his family. He is the founder and co-organizer of a local writers group, and a personal friend. Look for more of his writing here.