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Should Speech That Offends Be Prohibited?


Published: May 1, 2017

Speech that attempts to persuade is broadly protected under free speech, even if some people find it offensive. What some find offensive, others may find persuasive. A commitment to free speech inevitably means protecting the rights of people whose speech is deeply offensive to many, but a permissive environment leads to fewer rights being violated and ultimately, a freer world.

Discussion Questions

  1. Are there any circumstances in which offensive speech is prohibited?
  2. Can you counteract offensive speech through persuasive speech?
  3. Allowing offensive speech means some people who hold views that are widely offensive will be allowed to speak. What are the benefits of a system that protects groups like that? What are the costs?
View Transcript

You know that Freedom of Speech has some limitations:

you aren’t allowed to use force, threats, fraud, or defamation to get what you want.

But suppose an opinion that persuades one person deeply offends someone else.

Does that mean offensive speech is a form of harm that must be prohibited?

Well no, because if it WERE, the people who disagree with you the MOST, would have the most control over what you’re allowed to say.

The most vocal critics shouldn't be rewarded with additional rights over other people’s speech, OR over those who are less offended. Prohibiting speech that others find offensive violates the rights of both those who want to speak and, importantly, those who want to listen.

Done repeatedly, it puts our nation on a path to an unfree world.

That’s why persuasive speech needs special First Amendment protection.

A commitment to free speech inevitably means protecting the rights of people whose speech you find deeply offensive...

But the way to respond to offensive speech isn’t to use force – it’s to counter with persuasive speech of your own.