They say that the best things in life are free. But, no, I have to pay for my pelvic massages.
Nevertheless, speech is still free, which is one of the best things in life... I mean, not counting the Westboro Baptist Church protests, Snoop Dogg's tweets, and any Academy Award acceptance speech in which actors thank their publicist. Generally speaking, though, to voice one's opinion is a glorious thing.
Somewhere along the way, though, what constitutes "freedom of speech" has become muddled. The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the United States is very clear in defining freedom of speech, defining freedom of and from religion, and how to prepare a wonderful raspberry soufflé.
Free speech is the right to voice an opinion without fear of government censorship, arrest, or intervention. This is what freedom of speech means. Everything else is something else.
You don't have the right to block highways to make your point. But this has nothing to do with free speech. If you rob a bank while holding a "Don't Make Kids Learn About Evolution" sign, you'll still be arrested for robbing a bank. (Personally, I think schools should teach children about both evolution *and* Darwin's deviant personal lifestyle.) The First Amendment protects our right to voice an opinion during an illegal act, but not the illegal act.
Americans want to turn everything into a free speech controversy. Thomas Jefferson must be rolling in his slave-dug grave. But if the government is not fining you for, arresting you for, or preventing you from voicing an opinion, the situation is not about free speech. Rather, free speech is already implied. A newspaper can publish an offensive Garfield comic strip. Some people might be offended by said Garfield comic strip, and they can demand that the paper remove the strip from its website. The newspaper might then remove the Garfield strip, or it might stand by its decision to print it. Oh, how I wish our nation would stop being so divided over Garfield's love of lasagna! Nevertheless, the First Amendment allows us every step of this scenario: the publishing of, the being offended by, the protest to eliminate, the right to stand and the right to cave. This scenario is not about free speech. Free speech is, by Constitutional definition, already implied.
The murderous rampage at a French satirical newspaper is as much about free speech as it is about where the paper buys its ink. France does not abide by our Constitution, of course. And it certainly does not abide by our rule of film comedy -- which is that comedies should actually be funny. But by French law, Charlie Hebdo is within its legal right to mock religion. Hence, free speech is already implied. Hence, this story has nothing to do with free speech.
It's a tragedy that the tragedy at the Charlie Hebdo offices has become a misdirected story about free speech. This is not about free speech. France already has free speech. This is about dickwads shooting people.
After the murders, people held rallies in support of free speech. To those people, I'd say, "You're missing the point." It's like if a woman is raped for wearing tight jeans... and the response is to rally in support of tight jeans. Do you see the flaw? The problem is the rape, not the jeans. We already have free speech. As in America, people in France have the right to publish pictures of the Prophet Muhammad. That's why Charlie Hebo did it. Nobody was arrested for publishing the pictures. The government didn't fine anyone for publishing the pictures. And the perpetrators of the murders were stalked by -- and would have been arrested by -- the government. The problem is the murder; the problem is the world of radical Islam and its reaction to being offended.
Be offended. Be indignant. Be vocal. These are civilized, rational responses to insult. But if the rule is that you must kill anyone who publishes a cartoon you don't like, then how about... changing the rule?! Heck, I though the NFL's penalty for taunting was stupid. Well, this takes the cake for all-time dumbass rules.
To support free speech is to accept the legality of satire without question. To oppose free speech is to support a government law banning political cartoons. Neither of these positions has anything to do with what happened in France. What happened in France was a despicable, cowardly, fanatical murder. When you say, "I support free speech, but this picture is upsetting to people," you might as well be saying "I support free speech, but have you noticed how fat kids are getting?" One thing has nothing to do with the other. Charlie Hebdo doesn't care that the picture is upsetting to people. And good for them.
But back to the United States...
It's against the law to block a highway in the name of protest. You're endangering -- and worse, inconveniencing -- the lives of others. But if I stand on the side of the road while mocking a religious prophet? Well, I don't really care if you're offended. Because while your religion might have a rule against it, mine does not. And the First Amendment also guarantees our freedom of religion. It really is one of our best amendments.
Je suis Charlie!