Freedom of Speech

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” — U.S. Constitution

What is freedom of speech?

The right to speak and communicate what is on one’s mind is the application of the right to life to communication.

Like all legitimate rights, the right to freedom of speech does not exist as a non-contextual absolute but is absolute within a given context. Thus, the right to freedom of speech means that one may speak on one’s property, but may not for oneself into someone else’s private home, business, or property and speak there, as this would be a violation of the rights of others.

Similarly, the right to freedom of speech is not the right to threaten others with the initiation of physical force.

What is censorship?

In everyday speech, when a newspaper refuses to publish our views, or an online forum deletes our tweet, we say they have “censured” us. Yet, this is not censorship. It is not a violation of the right to freedom of speech, as there is no right to use someone else’s property to expound our views — we may only do so by their permission.

What the freedom of speech entails is that no one will initiate force — whether or a private citizen or government agency — to prevent us from using our property from expressing our views, or the property of others who have voluntarily consented to such use. As philosopher Ayn Rand observes in her essay, “The Fascist New Frontier”:

“Freedom of speech means freedom from interference, suppression or punitive action by the government—and nothing else. It does not mean the right to demand the financial support or the material means to express your views at the expense of other men who may not wish to support you. Freedom of speech includes the freedom not to agree, not to listen and not to support one’s own antagonists. A “right” does not include the material implementation of that right by other men; it includes only the freedom to earn that implementation by one’s own effort. Private citizens cannot use physical force or coercion; they cannot censor or suppress anyone’s views or publications. Only the government can do so. And censorship is a concept that pertains only to governmental action.”


Quotes on Freedom of Speech (Free-Speech)

“If men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences that can invite the consideration of mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of speech may be taken away, and dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter.” — George Washington, first U.S. president


“Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government: When this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins. Republics and limited monarchies derive their strength and vigor from a popular examination into the action of the magistrates.” — Benjamin Franklin, U.S. Founding Father


“If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed.” — Benjamin Franklin, U.S. Founding Father


“If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought — not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., U.S. Supreme Court justice


“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” — Evelyn Beatrice Hall (Attrib. Voltaire)*

*Evelyn Beatrice Hall under the penname “S. G. Tallentyre” in The Friends of Voltaire 198.  link