The significant part of the Bill of Rights reads,
“Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press;”Are there limits to freedom of speech and the press? Society has said, “Yes”. The courts have said, “Yes”. So what are those limits and how do we determine them? We have fancy words like “defamation”, “libel” and “slander” but what do they mean? Actually there are two factors that come into play: Truth and intent. The place where the law is clear involves making a statement you know is false in such a way that it damages someone who is not a public figure.
We need clear lines between what is allowed and what is not. We need clear penalties for crossing those lines. We need to enforce the law and be willing to put up with everything that does not break it. The sword must cut both ways in limitations and liberty.
The real checks will be found in culture, not in government. Notice that the First Amendment says that “congress” is not to limit our speech. That does not mean that social pressure cannot make a difference. It used to be you could watch a movie or listen to the radio without a constant stream of F-bombs and smutty language. The reason was not so much legislation as pubic outrage at such lack of decorum. The industry policed itself because people demanded it. You just did not do such things. I know what locker room lingo is like but the mouthy adolescents who were showing how tough they were knew that they had better not talk that way in public. Why did that worry them? There mother would find out. Now their mother is teaching them.
We as Americans need to start drawing limits. That means we start with ourselves. We need to start talking like we are on 1950's TV during family time. And we need to start giving people the “look” when they use such language. One thing I used to do was point out that I didn’t need to pardon their French because the word they used was Anglo-Saxon.
Like many things necessary to make life better, we tend to want liberty for ourselves and for others to toe the line. If we don’t want to have laws enforcing speech codes in our homes like they are doing on University Campuses we need to start setting the example.
homo unius libri