zeborah: Map of New Zealand with a zebra salient (Default)
[personal profile] zeborah
For the purposes of this post I shall focus on freedom of speech in the USA, whose First Amendment states:

Congress shall make no law [...] abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press [...]

People abiding in the United States are constitutionally protected from the specter of a law forcing them to say one thing or forbidding them to say another thing. They are likewise constitutionally protected from the specter of a law forcing the press to espouse some point of view or to suppress some other point of view.

This means that people abiding in the United States need never fear being arrested or prosecuted by the government for what they say or don't say, and this is a very good thing indeed. It also means that people can trust that US newspapers and TV stations aren't all just mouthpieces for the government (unless of course those newspapers and TV stations all individually choose to be, which seems unlikely) and this is also a very good thing.

Note however what this amendment doesn't say. It doesn't say that a press may not espouse a point of view or suppress a point of view. (If it did say such a thing, that would be a law abridging freedom of the press, and it's just said that there shall be no such law.)

It doesn't say that a non-governmental organisation may not espouse a point of view or suppress a point of view. It doesn't say that a person may not espouse a point of view or suppress a point of view. (If it did say such a thing, that would be a law abridging freedom of speech.)

It doesn't say that a media channel may not fire someone who has said nasty things. It only says that Congress shall make no law that a media channel must, or contrariwise that it must not, fire such a person.

It doesn't say that a convention may not refuse to honour someone else who has said other nasty things. It only says that Congress shall make no law that a convention must, or contrariwise must not, refuse to honour them.

Even if you count "honouring someone" as a speech act or as enabling a speech act, which I think is stretching things rather a lot.

Because the fact that one person has freedom of speech does not mean that someone else is obliged to pay for or otherwise actively support that speech. It doesn't give anyone the right to demand a column in the newspaper, or a segment on Fox News, or a minute on the radio airwaves, or comment space on someone's blog, or a podium at Wiscon.

Wiscon/SF3's decision to disinvite Elizabeth Moon as Guest of Honour does not abridge her freedom of speech, even if you think that organisations as well as government bear some moral responsibility for upholding that freedom. She can still write books. She can write blog posts. She can call up talkback radio. She can chat with her friends in the coffeeshop. She can speak at any other convention that's willing to have her. She can even, I believe, attend Wiscon and speak with people there; she just won't be officially honoured for it.

So she can still say anything she wants to say, and she will never, in the USA, be arrested for it, because Congress shall make no law abridging her freedom of speech. She just has to find somewhere else to say it than Wiscon's Guest of Honour podium (nor will she find this hard).

And if anyone really thinks that everyone everywhere in the US has the moral obligation to uphold everyone else's freedom of speech by providing them a platform to speak on, then six weeks before Wiscon/SF3 made their decision you should have been protesting Elizabeth Moon's mass deletion of comments from her post. Wiscon/SF3 aren't the ones engaging in censorship here.

(Personally I think she not only has the legal right but also the moral right to censor and otherwise control what's said in her own space. That she chose to exercise this right in this way and this context, however... was not the most constructive way to show respect for the people involved, shall we say.

(--Incidentally, my own personal policy on censorship is that if someone posts a comment to my DW or LJ which I feel I cannot in good conscience allow to remain here - which will generally be because it's hurtful to some third party - then I'll delete it and, where possible, email the text back to them so they can repost it to their own blog if they so choose. People are free to speak, and I'm free to refuse to host that speech.)
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zeborah: Map of New Zealand with a zebra salient (Default)
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