October 9, 2009
The heavy-handed tactics used recently by police against G20 protesters in Pittsburgh has Constitutionalists up in arms once again about the government's infringement upon the human right of free speech, which is protected by the First Amendment. If anyone knows anything about America , it is supposedly this—all Americans have the right to free speech.
But just when, exactly, are we justified in exercising this right? Is every American permitted to say whatever he wants, whenever he wants, wherever he happens to be?
Can I come into your home and read aloud The Ethics of Liberty from cover to cover while you have no recourse but to submit to my demand? Can I organize a peaceful assembly at the 50-yard line of Soldier Field during the middle of a professional football game? Can I march into an NBC studio and demand that they break into programming so I can petition the government for a redress of grievances?
I assume you answered in the negative for the above three questions. But what is the common denominator in the justification for "denying free speech" in each of those questions?
The common denominator is property rights.
The right to freedom of speech is completely dependent upon property rights. I do not have the inalienable right to say whatever I want if I am standing in your house. Soldier Field and NBC studios are also private properties wherein permission must be granted from the property owners in order for others to use their facilities to "exercise free speech."
Individual property rights are absolutely essential to free speech. If you have no place to stand upon the face of the Earth that is yours, then you cannot exercise your inalienable right to free speech without the permission of the owner of whatever property on which you find yourself. And any such "rights" given by permission can be rescinded at any time.
But what about public property? Isn't that supposedly "owned" by everyone?