Friday, October 07, 2005

Freedom of Speech

In the news today, a woman named Lorrie Heasley, with the assistance of the ACLU, is suing Southwest Airlines for violating her civil rights.

According to the article, "A woman was booted off a Southwest Airlines flight for wearing a T- shirt that bore an expletive and images of President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice." It continues with a quote from Ms. Heasley herself, "I have cousins in Iraq and other relatives going to war ... Here we are trying to free another country and I have to get off an airplane ... over a T-shirt. That's not freedom."

Well, Ms. Heasley, it is freedom. It is the freedom of Southwest Airlines to set terms and conditions on your use of its property (the airplane), and the freedom that you exercised when you agreed to purchase a ticket along with the terms and conditions that accompanied it. It is the freedom of Southwest Airlines to remove you from its property for violating those terms and conditions, particularly when they were agreed upon.

You can have all the freedom of speech the Constitution guarantees -- but not on someone else's property. The property owner has the right to exclude you from his property. Suppose I invite someone to my home who enjoys talking about video games. I do not enjoy listening to people talk about video games. While it may not be the best way to keep a friend, I have the right to tell my friend to leave if he does not cease to talk about video games. Could my friend sue me for any costs he incurred upon being told to leave my home? Suppose the timing of my request for him to leave coincides with rush hour traffic. Could he claim that I owe him for the additional time and gas he spent driving home? Of course not. Yet Ms. Heasley is demanding reimbursement for the costs she incurred for the remainder of the trip home. As the property owner, I choose whom I will allow to occupy my property at any given time. Why should it be any different for a business, such as Southwest Airlines?

Freedom of speech means that I can use my property to publish my ideas and I can speak freely on my property, even speaking out against the government. I exercise my freedom of speech within the bounds of my property rights. For example, I use my own laptop to write posts on this weblog. I do not enter your home, declaring my right to free speech, and proceed to preach the merits of capitalism and property rights to you. To do so would violate your property rights.

"Freedom" is not the ability to do anything you want, regardless of other people's rights. Freedom is the obligation of the government to refrain from interfering with your speech or actions unless you are violating another's property rights.

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