Reposted from Free-USA.org with permission.
It would seem, from a glance, that the only people to benefit from freedom of speech are those who are in the minority.
This is not necessarily true.
In in 1850s, John Stuart Mill wrote “On Liberty.” In the second chapter, it says:
“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind… the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by it’s collision with error.”
In simple terms, Mr Mill is saying that we are never justified in silencing other’s opinions and that silencing opinions aids in the deterioration of the quality of intellect and society.
How does this work?
When discussing opinions, either two things happen: (a) you are convinced that you are wrong, and, in Mill’s words, have the “opportunity of exchanging error for truth,” thus helping society to further progress towards light; or, (b) you come away with a renewed conviction that your opinion is right, and having had the opportunity to express and defend it, you are now more capable of doing so and thus have, in Mill’s words, “the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth,” and again, are better able to help society in further progressing towards light.
How does this apply in real life?
Naturally, there is a hierarchy of rights. Your right to life is more important than my freedom of speech. Thus, I cannot yell “fire” in a crowded theater. I cannot incite others to kill you, plot to overthrow the government and freedom, or otherwise try to use my voice to silence yours.
However, I can and should, in a free nation, be allowed to discuss my opinions and beliefs. Like I have said before, the First Amendment allows you to hold and express opinions and beliefs.
To reiterate the point: it is not only good, but crucial to have freedom of speech if society is going to progress. Debate and discussion, the respectful sharing of differing opinions, and the like is what aids us in our search for truth and betterment.
The First Amendment is not just about protecting the freedom of the minorities, it’s about protecting the freedom and welfare of everyone.
Mill, John Stuart. “Chapter II: Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion.” On Liberty and the Subjection of a Women, by John Stuart Mill et al., Penguin, London, 2006, pp. 23–23.