Essay:Free speech issues

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Free speech is generally considered to be the right of people to speak their mind, to give their opinion and to support the opinions of others.

Opponents to free speech - or restrictions on it - are often based on the principle of "clear and present danger". If you shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater, you are expressing your opinion that there is a fire, with the obvious implication that people should begin evacuating. If there is no fire - and you ought to know better - then you have created such a public nuisance that no one would say the state was suppressing your rights by punishing you for causing a stampede.

Likewise, there are provisions against inciting a riot. It's one thing to vilify a government official, or to badmouth a social, political or religious group. But to urge violent action against them directly - or even to stir people up, to agitate them so much that they run amok - this is considered criminal.

In both these cases, it's not the idea itself, but the timing and urgency of the expression. I can still say (calmly, later) that I thought the theater was on fire - or that I think a certain group is bad.

But new provisions of hate speech codes and laws seek to suppress any statement against certain "protected groups". This is censorship of pure speech and should be stopped.

Ted Kennedy's "Matthew Shepard" bill looks ...