Wednesday, December 14, 2011
This blog has always focused on Libertarian ideas and issues. Well, with that in mind I was watching an interview that Larry Flynt and Jerry Falwell did on Larry King back in 1996(watch it by clicking here) and it got me thinking about if freedom of speech actually has any limits. Of course my first response is HELL NO! Freedom of speech and freedom of expression should, in theory, have no limits at all. Yet, in reality the only real limits in the case of free speech and expression is slander and liable. Both slander and liable are not easy to prove in the court of law because you must prove that what was said or expressed was meant to damage, by way of lying, a person's ability to maintain a job and live within their community. You can also sue someone in civil court for emotional damages if what was said or expressed caused you deep emotional trauma. In both situations, it is very subjective and comes down to a matter of taste in the majority of cases within the US court system.
I did mention Larry Flynt, so before going forward let's take a look at his battle with Falwell all those years ago. Flynt thought it was damn funny to publish a parody of Falwell. So, in Hustler magazine Flynt published a parody ad of Falwell having sex with his mother in an outhouse(after first kicking the goat out of course). It was meant as a joke to give working class people, the majority of Hustlers readership, a good cheap laugh. Well, Falwell took offense to this and dragged Flynt and his company though a long court battle which took years to finally resolve. It was clear from the start that Falwell was not going to win this case in the end. The supreme court finally had to get involved and of course ruled in Flynt's favor. Yes, Flynt lied about the sexual history of Falwell but he did not intend to cause damage to Falwell's ability to maintain a job or live within the community. He was simply expressing himself and making a joke. It was clearly stated under the ad in question that it was a parody and meant as humor. So, what we can learn from that is freedom of speech cannot be limited on matters of taste. The fact that Flynt made an off color joke in a magazine intended to be risky and adult themed is not a violation of Falwell's right to live peacefully in his own community. Nor did such a joke damage Falwell's ability to maintain his job. Yes, Falwell was really offended but it is highly unlikely he suffered any deep emotional trauma. In the case of Flynt VS. Falwell, it is perfectly legal to offend another person in the United States of America.
Now, let's look at another example from, my current home for almost six years, Tokyo, Japan. The laws on freedom of speech and expression are pretty much the same in Japan except for a few minor differences. I will not get into Japanese free speech laws at this time. What I want to point out is the difference between violating someone's rights under the natural law of liberty vs. simply expressing yourself in a manner which might offend others. I took the picture featured in this post at Shibuya, Tokyo. It was in the early evening when a truck rolled by with an ad featuring a row of almost naked young women. The ad was for some web site which had little to do with beautiful young women. In Japan, such types of ads are so common that it is really rare for anyone to feel deeply offended. This truck was driving around the main section of Shibuya to expose this companies ad to as many people as possible. Let's use the America idea of freedom of speech and expression to judge if this ad damages the local business's ability to make money and exist in the community. If this trucking company regularly drives ad trucks around Shibuya featuring almost naked young girls promoting a variety of products, and sales of several businesses in the area drop during the same time, is the trucking company liable for damages caused by the ad?
Frist of all, we would have to prove that the ads directly lead to a drop in sales for the local businesses. The only two ways to do that would be to get ahold of public complaints filed concerning the ads or customers saying, on record, they will not shop at the area due to the ads. Even if you have both of those things it would still be very hard to prove the trucking company is liable for damages. Shibuya is an area in which there are plenty of ads featuring half naked young women. So, it becomes clear very quickly that being offended does not fall into the terms of liable or slander.
It would appear that freedom of speech and expression also includes the right to offend everyone. Morality or personal taste has no bearing on freedom of speech or expression. Like wise, if someone does say something which offends you, it is your right to respond to what was said. You cannot respond with violence or attempt to damage someone's ability to maintain their job or live peacefully within their community. A war of words is the only proper way to respond to speech which offends you; under the natural laws of liberty.