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Thoughts on Freedom of Speech, Part 1

Posted by Chance on June 19, 2006

There’s some good posts discussing the Dixie Chicks, and how some do not play them on the radio at moorethoughts.com, Bill Hobbs (the first links to the second) and at Astrocoz’s blog.

Now, is it right that the Dixie Chicks have suffered commercially (at least through radio airplay, I don’t know about ticket sales). Well, morally, I don’t think the radio stations have any obligation, but I understand how liberals feel. I know that if some secular artist said something that promoted Christianity or conservative thought, and the same thing happened to that artist that is happening to the Dixie Chicks, I am sure I would be annoyed.

From a freedom of speech standpoint, however, nothing is being violated. The first two blogs focus on the market aspect, pointing out that this is a market economy, not a command economy in which radio stations are directed by the government to play certain songs. I would like to approach it more from a freedom of speech issue. The third blog brings up some other issues in addition to the Dixie Chicks issue, which I will discuss in my next blog.

Many people cry censorship when things like this happen to the Dixie Chicks; that radio stations do not play their songs for their political views. A similar thing happened when Miramax, I believe it was (correct me if I am wrong), did not want to produce Michael Moore’s film, Fahrenheit 911, even though they provided money for it. And it is not just liberals. I’ve heard conservative Christians say their freedom of religion was violated when a store did not say Merry Christmas to them. Not that I cannot understand their annoyance, but such an action does not infringe on religious freedom, although there are many valid cases to complain about (a kid not being allowed to draw a poster about Jesus for a class project, for instance).

But censorship only technically happens when the government restricts speech. A radio station that refuses to play a certain song is not infringing on the artists’ right to free speech, no matter how good or bad the reason may be. Yes, it makes it harder for the artist to get their music out, but that leads me to the next point.

According to the Bill of Rights, free speech is a negative right, not a positive one. What this means is that the government cannot take actions to restrict freedom of speech. If freedom of speech was a positive right, it means that the government would have to provide the means for someone to get their voice out. I’ve heard the saying, “the government can’t take your microphone away, but they won’t supply you with one either.”

If the government did grant freedom of speech as a positive right, then we would have contradictions and a clash of “freedoms” everywhere we go. If the Dixie Chicks were given the “right” to have their songs played on the radio, this would contradict the radio station’s own freedom of speech. An editor of a newspaper would not even be able to control what was printed. While I hate bias in the media in any direction, if we ensured “fairness” through some government means, then the speech would not actually be “free.” In fact, I think socialism is contrary to freedom of religion and speech, because if the government owned everything, it would be regulating the presses and TV to make sure every viewpoint would be represented. While this may be “fair”, it is not “free.”

Now, this may seem unfair, because the more money one has, the more access they have to speech. This is true, but I prefer this to the alternative, in which those who have government power have more access to speech, and unpopular opinions are truly censored. And, more and more forms of alternative communication come about as time progresses, as you are reading right now. Any person with an opinion and internet access can speak what they wish, even if all they say is complete nonsense.

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