Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Banning Extremist Speekers

I have argued that the right to freedom of speech implies a right to respond to somebody else's speech through words (including words of condemnation) and private action.

The New Humanist reports today on a call to Ban Islamist Speakers to prevent spread of extremism, government urges universities.

Though this smacks of censorship, this is actually an example of private action. Private actions are those actions that one may perform without having to justify them to anybody. Where to shop. What to buy. What to watch on television. Which charities to support. Who to invite to your house for supper. Who to invite over to your university to speek.

I advocate that it is better to allow somebody to speak and then explain why their thinking is wrong, then to prohibit somebody from speaking and, as a result, sacrifice the opportunity to explain their errors. In fact, a good way to refute some of these claims is to actually cite a speaker, and systematically explain their failures, and what these types of failures imply about the moral character of the speaker.

(Note: As I have discussed before, we can learn about the moral character of an individual from the mistakes he makes. We can ask, "Why did he make that error and not some other?" Where the answer tells us something about what the speaker wants to believe it tells us something about his moral character.)

However, allowing somebody to speak does not imply providing him with assistance. It is consistent with doing nothing - not interfering. It is even consistent with responding with words of condemnation. None of these options violate a right to freedom of speech.

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