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On the culture of free speech

September 27, 2012

At The Atlantic‘Free Speech’ and the 1st Amendment Aren’t Always the Same Thing

The author makes a good point about USians not necessarily having the last word on the subject.  I’m very sympathetic to the notion that well-meaning restrictions on speech are inevitably abused, but as the author notes other countries have uglier experience than we do.  Plus there appears to be no absolute protection for “fighting words” and incitement, even if US law is more lenient than most.

There is also a question of outcomes — many places more restrictive than the US have a much more varied and publicly active political culture.  A similar disjoint can be seen with respect to religion — places with less statutory separation between religion and state than the US have not nearly as much religiosity on display in civic and political life, much less battles over things like creationism.  The pride with which USians of a classically liberal bent point to the First Amendment needs to be tempered with how much the culture stands in opposition to its apparent principles.

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