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Post Partisan
Posted at 03:28 PM ET, 09/25/2012

PostScript: Metro, free speech and a controversial ad

The Post’s editorial today chastising Metro for delaying the posting of an ad that may or may not be inflammatory inflamed a chewy and thoughtful debate in the comments. PostScript is pleased to analyze it here.

The editorial pointed out that judges had already ruled that other public transit systems have to accept the ad, so foot-dragging is a weasely measure, not a principled stand. But commenters were eager to play out what could make this an issue of free speech, the question of fighting words and the ability of government institutions to censor advertising.

beekeeper6 says this is exactly why we have a First Amendment:

Thank you for this editorial. If we aren’t willing to support and protect offensive, unpopular speech, then we don’t believe in “freedom of speech”, because that’s the whole point of the First Amendment. Popular speech doesn’t need protection. It’s really terrifying to me how willing many Americans are to just give up this fundamental right.

kdburg says that free speech is not actually absolute:

Free speech is constitutionally protected and important, but it should not be absolute, any more than Second Amendment gun rights or the right to abortion. Felons can’t buy guns, for example, and abortion is so heavily ‘regulated’ in many states that it is nearly unobtainable. But free speech is effectively absolute, as in this case or the case of that hateful, death-and-destruction-causing YouTube trailer that our President and Secretary of State so vociferously disavowed, without raising a finger to arrest or prosecute those who produced it.
There is an element of self-interest involved when the press argues for unabridged free speech. It’s nice not to have to worry about being accountable for things like libel, slander, and other such reasonable constraints.

Geezer4 argues that restrictions on speech will always come down to someone’s opinion and uses a delicious image that PostScript assumes to be about the Supreme Court:

I want to know how one determines what is and what isn’t acceptable. I am willing to bet that we would have a group of self-selected “decision-makers” sitting around a big table, scratching somewhere, and deciding based on opinions that they dearly uphold.

jbindc says that “speech” is not the same as space on public transit:

I support Metro’s decision. This message is clearly intended to offend, not to shake up the public to drive some difficult-yet-important debate, but merely to offend. This group has freedom of speech — they can stand on a street corner and speak their offensive message, they can make a web page, they can hand out flyers to anyone who cares to read them — that’s speech. There is no constitutional right to advertising.

And MyHouston draws a distinction between speech and political messages that categorize a specific set of people disparagingly:

Especially in its use of the ambiguous word “defeat,” the message is a political message posted on a public transportation system. It is using public property as a political tool that could conceivably lead to reprisals against passengers. Political messages that target a specific group of people should not be allowed on public property.

jrlund1 has an actual solution involving even more free speech:

Even unsavory speech is protected, as it should be. Thoughtful supporters of Israel will find this ad embarrassing. In response, I suggest some graffiti, replacing the word “Israel” with “Libya”. This only makes the ad more truthful.

Graffiti is PostScript’s favorite response to complex issues. The bunker is in fact covered in free-speech wallpaper, with spine-tinglingly offensive rhetoric and truly terrible misuses of the English language. Each day she selects one affront, gets really incensed and then takes an indelible crayon and makes it worse. So far nobody has offered to buy advertising to cover any of the wallpaper up, but she holds out hope.

By Rachel Manteuffel  |  03:28 PM ET, 09/25/2012

 
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