Liberty to Offend


24 words on Liberty: “If you do not fight for the Liberty of those you disagree with, then you do not know the meaning of the word Liberty.” One of the most heartwrenching moments in our country’s First Amendment history occurred in 1977 when a group from the American Nazi Party sought a permit to stage a parade, complete with Nazi armbands and flags, on the streets of Skokie, Illinois, which had a large Jewish population. And the U.S. Supreme Court, to its everlasting credit, ruled that the American Nazi Party had a Constitutional right of free speech to march and express their (misguided) opinions.

This underscored those 24 words. If we allow the government to prohibit “offensive” speech, even if the majority of us deem those ideas to be misguided, obnoxious and even satanic, what assurances do we have that all minority speech might soon be curtailed? Where can the line be drawn? Thus Liberty allows speech that can be contrary to the values we hold dear. But we must protect and defend the rights of people to state their views, even if we fervently disagree with them, in order to protect our Liberty to do the same. Otherwise the Constitutional right of free speech could be eroded to nothing. (But we can all take solace that just because someone has the right to state their views does not mean that they have a right for others to listen, or even to take them seriously.) So yes, once again, there is a price for Liberty, but it is a price truly worth paying.

Judge Jim Gray (Ret.)
2012 Libertarian candidate for Vice President, along with
Governor Gary Johnson as the candidate for President