Freedom of Speech Part Three of Several

Eternal Hope Springs

The Scene: Inside Bob-Ed’s community store. Broderick, Pete, Grady, Luther, Parson Paul, and Alphonso are lounging in the back. It’s the evening after Part Two.

“Now I’m disturbed,” said Grady.

“We’ve long had our suspicions,” said Luther.

“Is everything allowed under free speech rules?” asked Grady.

“That’s one of the powers of it,” said Pete. “Letting a body spout with the brakes off is a surefire method for finding out just how big an idiot they truly are.”

“How’s your onions coming, Luther?” asked Alphonso.

“Might not be an idiot,” said Grady, “could be a professional windbag.” 

“A few things are proscribed,” said Broderick, “sedition, violent overthrow of the established order, fighting words, blackmail, plagiarism, yelling ‘Fire’ in a crowded theatre, that sort of thing.”

“Dragging along,” said Luther.

“What if there was a fire? What would you yell? Pigeons?” asked Pete.

“Yelling ‘Pigeons’ in a burning building is going to generate the wrong kind of reaction,” said Bob-Ed. “People’d be covering their popcorn instead of heading for the exits.”

“Your talky tonight, Luther,” said Grady.

“I get itchy as the harvest approaches,” said Luther. “Cuts into fiddling time.”

“If there was a fire in the theatre than it would be perfectly reasonable to yell ‘Fire’,” said Broderick.

“What if it was only a little fire?” asked Pete. “Yelling’d cause an unnecessary panic and you could still wind up in jail.”

“You’d probably be all right if you used one of the diminutive synonyms for fire, introduced it politely, followed it with calm instructions or perhaps maybe a suggestion and uttered it in a soothing voice,” said Parson Paul. “Something like, ‘Excuse me ladies and gentlemen but it appears some combustible objects have combined with oxygen to generate a degree of light, heat, and smoke. It may be useful if we all made our way to the exits in an orderly fashion’.”

“By the time you got all that out everyone else’d be yellin’ ‘Fire’,” said Pete.

“What if it was only a match?” asked Grady. “Would could you say then?”

“No smoking,” said Alphonso, lighting his pipe.

  “In the words of some wise individual who’s name temporarily escapes me the freedom of speech is much like the freedom to swing your arm. Your right to swing ends where the next fellow’s nose begins,” said Broderick.

“That’s a whole ‘nother thing,” said Pete. “What if that nose is getting stuck into something that ain’t its business?”

“Then the arm is free to do what it likes. If the nose gets busted it’s the nose’s own fault,” said Bob-Ed.

“But even if the nose was someplace it oughtn’t not be doesn’t the arm have a duty of care?” asked Grady.

“That depends on where the arm decides to swing,” said Broderick. “In a crowded room that could very well be an intentional tort whereas if the arm decided to swing whilst alone in the forest —”

“It’d likely crack a knuckle on a pine tree,” said Grady.

“Or the nose of a bear,” said Pete.

“So the arm has not only a duty of care towards others but towards itself,” said Parson Paul.

“And bears,” said Pete.

“Bears are not protected by the constitution,” said Broderick.

“Well they ought to be. They’re natural born citizens of this country just like the rest of us,” said Alphonso.

“So if I understand correctly… and it’s true that speaking and arm-swinging are similar in law… then a body of the first part needs to be careful about what it says in case it butts up against the nose of a body of the second part who may or may not have a right to be in the way and that if that second part is a body capable of swallowing the first part in one gulp then it’s the first part’s own fault for not be careful enough to check if the proximity of the second part is such, whether they deserved to be or not, to be impacted and if they are and the first part gets eaten then it’s no more than what they deserve,” said Pete. 

“We’d all have to think carefully before we said anything,” said Parson Paul

“That’d be plum un-American,” said Alphonso.