Eppur si muove

Things I Think About, by Peter Bowditch

Talk is cheap, but not always free

A continual complaint from nonsense peddlers is that their right of free speech is infringed by media outlets that won’t print their opinions. They overlook the fundamental issue that private owners of publications have no obligation to provide platforms for people who disagree with them. It is not a restriction on freedom of speech if your letter to the editor is not published or your advertisement for condoms is rejected by the Catholic Weekly. Laws about freedom of speech are always about what the government will let you say, not about what non-government bodies do. One thing I have noticed about nonsense believers is that their ability to understand constitutional law is on par with their knowledge of science, logic, and ethics – non-existent. I am always amused by people in Australia quoting their constitutional rights, in this particular case their First Amendment right to free speech (the first amendment to the Australian Constitution clarified the term that senators serve).

In a beautiful example of optimism, a client of our old friend Tim Bolen, spokesanus to the quacks, argued in court that it was unconstitutional for the government to make laws banning lying in advertisements. Unluckily for the lying advertiser in question the judge on the bench that day was sane and this idiocy was rejected. Tim, of course, was a willing participant in the effort by Meryl Dorey of the Australian Vaccination Network to abuse the courts in order to stop me speaking about her and her activities, but if Tim didn’t have double standards he wouldn’t have any standards at all.

Criticism of what someone says is not an attempt to stifle free speech, although this is another continual complaint. If I grant you the right to express an opinion I have an equal right to object to what you say.

I once received an email from the head bigot at the ultra-racist British Nationalist Party. I can’t find it now but I do remember part of it. He pointed out that even though we might agree on nothing except what day it is he would never try to stop me saying what I think, because it would be hypocritical of him to deny to others a right he claimed for himself. That made two things we agreed on.

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[This article originally appeared in The Millenium Project.]

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