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The Limits of Free Speech


Published: May 1, 2017

The First Amendment allows us to speak our mind and stand up for what we believe in. However, the limits on free speech are rooted in the principle that we’re not allowed to harm others to get what we want. That’s why we’re not allowed to use to speech for force, fraud, or defamation.

Discussion Questions 

  1. Why is it a good idea include close substitutes for speech in protections under the First Amendment?
  2. Are you allowed to advocate for the use of force in the abstract, as with the Marxist position for the forcible overthrow of the government? Is that different from calls for immediate force?
  3. While your intention may not be to harm others through free speech, what if someone feels threatened by it nonetheless?
  4. Why is fraud not allowed under freedom of speech?
View Transcript

The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech. But does that mean we're allowed to say anything we want?

Well, not quite.

The limits on free speech come from the basic principle that you're not allowed to harm others to get what you want.

You can win in the marketplace, with better goods and lower prices, and even put your competition out of business, but you're not allowed to use

speech to threaten to hurt someone, either verbally or nonverbally.

And you're not allowed to deceive people to get what you want – that's called fraud. You'd be harming them because they're relying on false information.

Free speech means you can:

Proclaim your beliefs and passions,

argue your opinions,

and speak out against what you consider to be injustices.

As long as you don't defame or abuse people, OR advocate the immediate use of force

OR intentionally misrepresent the truth to people... or to those who they might deal with,

You have the freedom to share whatever is on your mind.