How We Can Restrict Free Speech and Be Just as Free as Canada

By Tom Gilson Published on December 31, 2017

Noah Berlatsky, writing for the NBC News page Think, says the First Amendment is probably too broad, and that there’s a case now for America to restrict free speech. It’s fine, he says: We can do that and be just as free as Germany, Sweden and Canada.

If that sounds good to you, keep reading.

What he seems to mean by freedom is that we can remain free to say things he and other progressives agree with. I’m okay with his advice that we stand up against white supremacists, for example. But how? If they use violence, we have ways to deal with that through the police and the courts. If they speak nonsense, should we respond the same way? And would the same rules apply to Antifa or Black Lives Matter? Is there some good reason he singles out white supremacists here?

Now, that’s real freedom! Just ask any leftist.

He objects to Milo Yiannopoulos’s harassing a trans student. Sure, Yiannopoulos’s behavior is abhorrent (language warning). No one should be treated that way. If Berlatsky had called him out for indecent treatment of a fellow human being he’d have been on the right track. He didn’t do that, though. He said instead that no trans student should be treated that way. Mere human dignity isn’t enough for leftists like Berlatsky.

Regulating “Hate Speech”?

I’d like to be able to see Berlatsky in a better light, if I could. But it sure sounds like he thinks certain opinions are out of bounds and should be regulated. “Many free speech advocates are willing to try to balance free speech harms and free speech goods” he says, “except, it seems, when it comes to hate speech against marginalized communities.”

But as every aware person knows, “hate speech” doesn’t really mean hate speech. It means speech that contradicts beliefs held among designated “marginalized communities,” including of course LGBTQ, and their practices.

Indeed, it’s not the First Amendment that’s too broad, it’s our culture’s current conception of “hate speech.” Tighten that up to include only speech that’s truly damaging (and broaden it to include speech affecting more than just the left’s favored groups), and I’d be willing to tighten up the First Amendment to restrict people from using it. Except as Berlatsky admits, we’re pretty much there already: we have laws and precedent on the books even now restricting truly damaging speech.

To Be Just as Free as Canada and Sweden!

And how would we enforce his proposed new restrictions on free speech? Wouldn’t our country start looking like Orwell’s 1984? No, says Berlatsky, calling upon a quote from Richard Delgado, co-author of a new book advocating limits on the First Amendment. Delgado says we’d “look like France, Germany, The Netherlands, Canada or Sweden, all of whom regulate hate speech but where the political climate is just as free and healthy as our own, if not more so.”

We could be just that free, too! More free than we are now, even! Free to express any opinion that Berlatsky and others like him find acceptable.

Ah, yes, Canada, where C16 provides legal penalties for “mis-gendering” another person. Where people with traditional views on marriage and morality are barred from adopting, and may soon be barred from practicing law. Where a pro-life politician was barred from chairing a commission because of her “outrageous” views. Where a government agency wants to force foster parents to tell children that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are real. Where religious liberty is fast eroding, in other words.

And just try home schooling in Sweden or Germany. (No, don’t. It doesn’t go over so well there.)

We could be just that free, too! More free than we are now, even! Free to express any opinion that Berlatsky and others like him find acceptable. And free to be fined for saying anything else. Or to have our foster kids taken away. Or to give up our hopes of following a profession like the law. Now, that’s real freedom! Just ask any leftist.

Better Our Imperfect World Than the Utopia He Imagines

Free speech isn’t protected in the Constitution to protect language judged “acceptable,” whether from the left’s perspective or the right’s, or from any other interest group’s point of view. It’s there to protect unpopular speech. It’s there to promote civil disagreement and fruitful controversy.

I get the sense that Berlatsky has a perfect world in view, where no one disagrees and everyone gets along. Of course that means no one disagrees with his preferred viewpoint. It’s a utopian vision, with a clearly totalitarian bent to it, despite his disclaimers.

But we have an imperfect world instead, so we have the First Amendment to promote the kind of disagreement and dialogue that can move us toward truth. And for my part I’d much rather live in this real, imperfect world of ours than his “perfect” one.


Tom Gilson is a senior editor with The Stream and the author of A Christian Mind: Thoughts on Life and Truth in Christ, released in December 2017. Follow him on Twitter: @TomGilsonAuthor.

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  • John Doe

    Very interesting that this site, Christian I’m told, has in the past couple of days written two very similar articles about your closest friendly neighbor, Canada. Thank you for pointing out our problems. Yes we do need to roll back these overtly liberal laws. Lumping us in with Germany and that band of misfits. Yes they are serious issues that probably at least 50% of Canadians do not agree with. But for the time being we are stuck with.
    I have not though ever seen a story on here favorable to anything Canadian, just criticism. We up here know LOTS about the US. And with Mr Trumps agenda in play, we may even be envious wishing Mr Harper were still our PM. But that doesn’t mean all is lost up here. So how about some positives, or are you like the article on here where Christians attack Christians?

    • GPS Daddy

      I don’t read this as an attack against Canadian Christians. On the contrary, I see it as an indictment on liberal double standards. I’m not one for “conspiracy” theories but there seems to be a coordinated, well funded, effort to undermine conservative values and enforce liberal views of the few.

    • Conr

      John, if anything Canada is helping others wake up to the loss of freedoms that could be coming soon. So thank you for being the siren to Americans. I am sorry for the troubles you have to deal with.

      I would love to read more about Christianity in Canada, if you have any recommendations

    • BetterYet

      Hate to time warp you into the future, John, but (my) Canada has not been considered a Christian nation since about 1964. The writer is correct. If you are a Canadian in Canada and publically call the LGBTQQXYZ lifestyle into question, you are in for an expensive legal ride that will quite probably end with you in jail. Americans do need to wake up to the “Liberalism gone mad” that is happening in Canada to stop it from happening there. The sad thing is that the majority of Canadians have no idea what is happening.

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