I have a free speech puzzle for you.
Let us say you have a microphone. I come up to you with a gun, stick it in your ribs, give you a piece of paper, and I say, "Read that over the microphone, or suffer the consequences."
You refuse. Furthermore, you are able to give a signal to some friends of yours who then come up to me, put a gun to my head, and tell me to put my gun away and to leave the premises.
In response to this, I accuse you of violating my right to freedom of speech. You are seeking to restrict what you say over the microphone to messages that you approve of, and you are not willing to deliver my message. Furthermore, you decided to respond to my threat that you must deliver my message or suffer the consequences with a superior threat of your own. Because of this, you are obviously guilty of violating freedom of speech. Whereas a person who respects freedom of speech no doubt believes that people can be threatened into saying whatever the person issuing the threat wants them to say.
Obviously, this is an absurdity. Yet, if you owned a bus in Des Moines, and a group of atheists want you to deliver a message about people who do not believe in God not being alone, apparently, the person using force on others and telling them what to say are the defenders of free speech, at least the way some people seem to be thinking of the issue.
I do not agree with that point of view. I hold that it is just as much a violation of freedom of speech to force others to say what one wants them to say, as it is to force them not to say what one does not want them to say. Using violence to force others to say, "Don't believe in God? You are not alone," is an example of forced speech that should be looked at as a violation of a right to freedom of speech.
Anybody who has been reading this blog for the past week know that I was in favor of returning the same bus signs with the same message to the busses of Des Moines. This is not an argument that the Iowa Atheists and Free Thinkers were wrong to demand that signs be returned. However, I disagree that an act of forcing people to say something they do not want to say shows any to the right of freedom of speech.
I hold that there is another argument for forcing the bus company to place the atheist signs on the bus. It is because the decision to remove them in the first place was prejudicial and discriminatory, and that governments may not permissibly engage in acts of religious bigotry.
Governments have no right to freedom of speech. Therefore, forcing a government to say or to refrain from certain facts is not a violation of a right that governments do not have to violate.
The issue involved in Des Moines was an issue of quality before the law. The reason the government has the obligation to publish the Atheist message is because they had published like messages for other groups. This committed them to moral obligation to treat atheists the same way.
Again, the fact that DART was being forced to put the message on the side of the bus does not prove that this must be an instance of protecting free speech – any more than my forcing you to read a text I prepared proves that I am a defender of free speech. It is, in fact, the opposite of freedom of speech and destructive of our actual rights when those who use the term “free speech” use it to attack free speech.
It is not a practice that has a lot of merit.