Must Free Speech Be Harmful?
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
Must free speech be harmful? That is, must the freedom of speech protect harmful speech? Popular discourse in the United States often assumes that it must. Discussions about hate speech or false speech frame harm as the price we pay for freedom. Meanwhile, several distinguished scholars have also asserted that the right of freedom of speech must include protection for harmful speech. They claim that, in order to be either conceptually or normatively significant, any plausible speech right must protect harmful speech. In other words, freedom of speech must include harm. If it does not, it is not doing its job. This assertion has the distinction of being at once an old saw, a sophisticated philosophical argument, and a fairly stunning claim. A right that must encompass harmful conduct? Why would people say that harm protection is a necessary feature of a right? And are they correct?