Private Citizens Cannot Violate Free Speech Rights

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Photo by Markus Spiske on

I’ve been listening to the likes of Jordan Peterson, Brandon Turner, Ben Shapiro and Dave Rubin recently and their conversations have stimulated my thinking about certain subjects.

There was one specific topic that really got me thinking. Dr. Peterson, along with the the others, emphasized numerous times the importance of the right to free speech, or uncompelled speech. Further, Dave Rubin discussed his belief that people don’t have the right to silence someone else’s speech. For example, a certain group or individual goes to a college to speak and is virtually run off campus. The action of running someone off campus, Rubin argues, is a violation of free speech and we don’t have a right to violate or suppress someone else’s free speech.

Here’s the thing. Technically we do have the right to violate or suppress someone else’s speech. The government doesn’t, but we do.

Let that sink in for a moment.

We wouldn’t have a right to violate someone else’s freedom of speech if the government wrote laws preventing us from doing that. But we don’t have those laws. In other words, we have a right to do whatever we want to do within the confines of law and, right now, there are no laws on the books that legally prevent individuals or businesses from compelling or suppressing someone else’s free speech.

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The point of the government is to keep citizens in check, and protect our private property from each other. This is done within the small confines of a few limited laws that prevent chaos and anarchy. The Constitution’s job is to protect us, our rights and our private property from the government.

We tend to forget this.

Right now, we the people have every political and legal right to silence, fire, protest, talk over, and prevent someone else’s free speech.

There is no law or moralistic code that says otherwise. So, when I hear these men saying that “people” don’t have a right to suppress someone else’s free speech, I wonder…from where do they get such an idea or maxim and what do they expect government to do about it? Because, they are equating such an idea to the idea that people don’t have a right to kill one another or steal from one another. Such rights are explicit natural rights as presented by Locke and Hobbes and warrant government law and intervention if violated.

The insinuation in a statement like “so and so doesn’t have a right to silence me” is that government has the obligation to legally step in and protect your right to free speech from being violated by another private individual or business by preventing that private individual or business from silencing you.

But friends, this is not the vision the founders had…at all.

Remember, the Constitution only applies to government. This means that I cannot legally violate your right to free speech, only the government can.

But, what if we start moving forward with the logic that we don’t have a right, as private individuals, to silence someone else’s free speech. Take this thought process to its eventual end. This means that someone, outside of we the people, must determine what constitutes a violation of someone else’s free speech versus what doesn’t, and that someone must also establish the legal parameters and consequences for violating someone else’s free speech.

Get that?

In short, when taken to its eventual end, government would have to write laws that prevented private individuals and businesses from ever violating someone else’s freedom of speech.

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Not only would these laws be unconstitutional (per the parameters of the Constitution) but they’d also be extremely arbitrary. We’d be handing government a whole mess of power.

Do we really want more laws? Do we really want more government?

I agree with these gentlemen in principle. A society is much healthier if free speech is allowed to remain unhindered and censorship rare. The more a society tends to the tyranny of the majority, with businesses and individuals silencing each other, the worse off that society is. A society willing to censor and silence oppositional or differing opinions is only a step away from asking the government to censor and silence oppositional or differing opinions.

However, such censorship should not really be surprising. In a free society where people are free to run their businesses how they like, free to protest people and views they don’t like, free to present the news as they like, societal violations of free speech are a given. They are the side-effect, per se, of liberty and free speech.

We actually have the right, as business owners, to dictate how we want our employees to behave themselves, talk, discuss topics etc. We have the right as individuals to silence people to whom we don’t want to listen. We have the right to fire people we believe have said something that goes against whatever business mentality or standard we hold.

Do I like how far this type of individual and private power has gone? Heavens no. But it doesn’t change the fact that, legally and Constitutionally, we have every right to silence each other’s free speech.

So, again, in principle, I agree with the “idea that private individuals shouldn’t be able to silence each other”. It’s certainly not ideal that we live in a nation today where censorship is rampant, cancel culture rages and the ability to discourse openly with each other without societal retribution is rare.

But railing against the private industry and private individuals for violating free speech does nothing and usually insinuates only one solution.

More government.

And friends, more government is the last thing we need.

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So, I write this article today to stimulate more conversation about how to both, individually and collectively, stimulate and revive the ability to discourse openly–without appealing to government. We need to remember that offensiveness is still legal and we need to stop turning to the federal government as our one savior and our one source of hope.

Free speech is vital to sustaining a free society. But it’s not the federal government’s job to dictate the societal norms of free speech. That is society’s job. It’s the federal government’s job to stay out of our speech entirely. They cannot and should not be allowed a say in it at all.

So, as hard as it might be to swallow this line of reasoning, we need to stop asking for the federal government to get involved in something that’s not their job.

Because, heaven forbid it become their job because we demanded it.

The Liberty Belle

2 thoughts on “Private Citizens Cannot Violate Free Speech Rights”

  1. Michael Goldman

    The issue is complicated by limited liability for speech by others on a platform.

    You have the right to speak but not the right to be immune to defamation suit.

    You have the right to exercise editorial control over a platform but not to be protected from claims.

    We have given statutory protection to platforms to remove certain speech which violates rules, but what are those rules and do they even have to make them clear or public?

  2. ‘We wouldn’t have a right to violate someone else’s freedom of speech if the government wrote laws preventing us from doing that.’

    Governments can’t change our rights by passing laws since rights logically precede government.

    Also as private citizens we CAN violate someone’s right to free speech if we threaten to physically harm them (or actually harm them) if they say what we don’t want them to say. For example, my company might fire me for what I say but they can’t (morally or legally) kill me for saying it.

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