Submitted by Allen Frances MD
“All cruel people describe themselves as paragons of frankness.”
– Tennessee Williams
Recently, a small group of cruel people in Coronado describe themselves as defenders of “free speech.” It’s OK for them to mob school board meetings. It’s OK to threaten and emotionally abuse school board members. It’s OK to throw tortillas. It’s OK to insult racial minorities and gays. It’s OK to use bullying tactics to restrict other people’s free speech. It’s OK to limit free thought and fact-based education in our school system. It’s OK to deny science, risking our kids’ health at school. It’s OK to spread lies and disinformation. It’s OK to pollute civil discourse. It’s OK to be coarse and brutish. The absurd claim is that “free speech” justifies a multitude of sins and makes everything OK.
Well, no. Like all sacred rights guaranteed by the Constitution, free speech has its legal, moral, and ethical limits. Your freedom to swing your fist ends where my nose begins. Your freedom to speak freely ends when you willfully, maliciously, and falsely use it to harm others and compromise the common good. Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes, speaking for the Supreme Court in 1919, used a telling metaphor to illustrate the legal limits of free speech: “Falsely shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater and causing a panic” is not protected free speech.
The small minority of extremist bullies in our community are not exercising free speech, they are weaponizing it.
Allen Frances MD