Free Speech and Broken Hearts

A friend of mine who is both concerned with liberty and the well-being of her neighbors sent me the ACLU’s position paper on Freedom of Expression. She had genuine conflict because she is concerned about our 1st Amendment rights and agrees with their position, but doesn’t want to be or appear to be unloving to her friends and neighbors affected by this. I decided to respond openly because I know this is something a lot of my liberty-minded friends struggle with.
I will not ever say that Nazis, or any other awful group that you can think of, can’t assemble in the public square peacefully and express their point of view. Yes, they can do it, and should be free to do it peacefully without legal consequences. (Financial and social consequences are another matter entirely.) Here are the challenges I have with this line of discourse:
  • Relatively few people are saying they shouldn’t – There are varying degrees of outrage, disappointment, and sadness about the protest, but most who are opposed recognize their right to free speech.
  • They’re not peacefully assembled – A woman was killed and 19 people were injured by the car that plowed into counter-protestors. At least one man was beaten in a garage. When violence begins, your right to speak ends.
  • There is a double standard – There are conflicting accounts from the ground, but a number of accounts point to police being more vigilant and aggressive toward the counter-protestors. I don’t want to speculate on to what degree the police were prepared for violence from the right-wingers versus the left, or how that compares to a BLM rally or vigil, but there is certainly a sense of a double standard when you look at, for instance, the protest in Baton Rouge with the iconic picture of the woman appearing to cause riot officers to lean back from the force of her resolute will.
Talking about free speech is important, once people actually start saying they shouldn’t have it. When people start lobbying for policy to be introduced, then you should speak up against it, and speak up loudly. As it stands, most of the complaints are angry, sad, and hurt people just wishing that these people would go away.
Speaking of hurt, let’s talk about the heart. Leaping to free speech as the first thought in your mind when you see something like Charlottesville is at best callous. It’s a failure of love to not see your neighbor’s fear and pain and seek to help resolve that first. When a good friend is hurt by someone, do you start trying to see the good in that other person? Do you try to convince your friend that they’re being unreasonable by being so upset? No, you hug them, cheer them, get some food, commiserate for a bit. If your friend becomes obsessive about the situation, or wants to get revenge, then maybe you talk them down and start pointing out where they’re being unreasonable. But you start with care and love.
Pointing out a Nazi’s right to speak freely isn’t love for your neighbor. It’s true, but it’s not helpful or kind. Instead of fixating on the right of evil to exist, turn that energy and focus to your neighbor and let them know through your words and actions that they are not alone, that you stand with them. Show them that when the torches come to your city, they don’t have to stand alone.

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