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More About: Property Rights

The Dilemma of Free Speech

Last week Monday the United States Supreme Court handed down a ruling tightening the limits on student speech.  According to the 5-4 majority ruling given by Chief Justice John Roberts, public schools may prohibit student expression that can be interpreted as advocating drug use. 


A high school student unfurled a homemade banner that had a nonsensical message as the 2002 Winter Olympic torch made its way through Juneau, Alaska en-route to the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.  The student thought his sign could say anything at all.  His principal thought otherwise and said that the phrase was a pro-drug message that had no place at a school sanctioned event.  The student was suspended which prompted a federal civil rights lawsuit. 


Another Supreme Court decision handed down at the same time, again with a 5-4 split, upheld an appeals court ruling that an anti-abortion group should have been allowed to air advertising during the final two months before the 2004 elections.  The court said that the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law unreasonably limits speech and violates the group’s First Amendment rights. 


In both cases it is not really free speech that is at issue, but rather the government’s responsibility to insure that individuals and private companies maintain the endowed right to use their property as they wish so long as they do not initiate force against another.  The First Amendment restricts government from interfering with what people say. 


The problem that always arises though, especially in the case of public schools, is the ownership of the property.  The state of Arizona and the rest of the 49 states own the property on which all public (government) schools are located.  Since government owns the property, government gets to decide what speech is allowed.  However, the First Amendment forbids government from restricting any kind of speech.  The dilemma rests in the ownership of the property. 


Government, in order to be an impartial arbiter and enforcer of private property rights, ought not to own any property in order for it to abide by the First Amendment.  If all schools were non-government owned, individuals could choose the school to which they send their children based upon, among other concerns, what speech is allowed on the various school grounds.  Private individuals and companies can restrict speech.  Government is not allowed to.

For this very same reason government ought not to own or control any media, whether it be print, audio, or video.  Regarding the McCain-Feingold case, in a free society any private company may air any message it wants, when it wants, so long as it can persuade and make a contract with the particular media involved to broadcast the message.  The only responsibility of government is to see to it that the contract is upheld in the event of a dispute.  If individuals do not like what is being broadcast, they can choose not to read, listen, or view it. 

By government staying out of the business of education and advertising and doing what it is suppose to do, namely to be sure that the particular private entities involved, whether they be individuals or companies, uphold their end of the contract and enforce the private property rights with which each is endowed, the First Amendment remains in tact and the dilemma of free speech is removed. 







1 Comments in Response to

Comment by Dave Hodges
Entered on:

The notion that government should stay out of education is right on the money!. And of course, we have free speech so long as the bureaucrats agree with the message.

Good work!

Dave Hodges

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