Tag Archives: Freedom

‘The most famous and pervasive lazy cheat in American dialogue about free speech’

Oliver Wendell Holmes gave us the phrase about shouting fire in a crowded theater. Most people are against such shouting, despite today’s audiences being more likely to look around with irritated curiosity than to panic. Pulling the fire alarm in a crowded theater would cause a problem, and this censorship of free expression is the law. (Why can’t you pull a fire alarm to express yourself? Why can’t you call 911 to talk to give your opinion? Is this 1984?)

Here’s what Justice Holmes actually wrote. “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.”

He gave this opinion in support of the Supreme Court’s conviction of Charles Schenck, the Secretary of the Socialist Party of America, for writing a pamphlet in opposition to the WWI draft. Two similar cases came up that year and were decided the same way. Calls to “assert your rights” were compared to inciting panic in entertainment houses.

Back in 2012, Trevor Timm wrote about how abused the shouting-fire phrase has become and how much damage it has done to America’s concept of free speech. “Its advocates are tacitly endorsing one of the broadest censorship decisions ever brought down by the Court. It is quite simply, as Ken White calls it, ‘the most famous and pervasive lazy cheat in American dialogue about free speech.'”

Freedom of What Exactly?

The [current] debate over religious freedom has generally assumed that the primary contest is over defining freedom, not religion. We assume that we more or less know what we are talking about when we say ‘religion’ . . . [I want to] question the assumption that Christianity is a religion to begin with, and examine both the advantages and the problems with claiming religious freedom for the church.

On the face of it, the question I’m raising seems ridiculous. Of course Christianity is a religion. A deeper look at the recent government arguments about the free exercise of religion, however, makes clear that what does and what does not count as religion is at the heart of the matter.

William Cavanaugh, quoted on the site for Mars Hill Audio Journal, from his book Field Hospital: The Church’s Engagement with a Wounded World.

What Does Your Generosity Cost?


Perhaps you’ve heard of the friend who loves to cook, so he invites people to his apartment or they invite him to their house and he prepares a loving, wonderful meal they couldn’t buy anywhere in town. Often his friends bring the steak or salmon, but they can’t do all of the shopping for him because he knows exactly what he wants and orders some of the spices in bulk. His chief ingredient is himself.

Perhaps you live in a community of volunteers, a place where people help each other regularly. They’re led by a few who seem to have a gift of seeing needs and knowing how to respond. They’re always painting, carrying, cleaning, assisting, or delivering something with others and probably chewing on someone’s ear at the same time. These people generously give their time and spirit.

What does the generosity of these friends cost them? Some of this work can be quantified in dollars, but at least half of it cannot. It’s skill, love, kindness, and optimism. It doesn’t break down easily, if at all, into dollars, but it does cost something. It isn’t free.

If you were one of these people, cooking a meal or helping a neighbor, what would you say your generosity cost? Why do you do it? Why do others do it? What would your life look like if no one ever gave anything like this to you?

These may not be easy questions, because we tend to think kindness doesn’t cost us anything. Skill may be the work of a lifetime, but what does it really cost on a particular project? When we aren’t paying for it, we may not see it.

But nothing is free. Everything costs something to someone.

I’m sure many people do believe some things are actually free, because they refuse to think beyond themselves. But I think many more people understand that things do cost something to someone, and they don’t care what it costs so long as whoever-it-is continues to pay for them.

Catching up with Orwell

Today, I happened to think of the Party slogan from George Orwell’s 1984:


And it occurred to me that we’ve reached the age of the second line.

How can freedom be slavery? How can a political culture devoted to the concept of human freedom turn around and call freedom slavery?

We’re seeing it happen now, I think.

The problem of freedom, from the progressive point of view, is that it makes inequality inevitable. Leave any group of people free to do whatever they want, and inequality will be the result. Some people have more talent or intelligence than others. Some have better work habits. Some did a better job picking their parents. It follows inevitably that the competition will have winners, losers, and lots of people in between.

The Left is convincing itself, more and more, that such inequality is unacceptable. Inequality is unjust. Inequality, it seems to them, is exactly equivalent to slavery.

Thus, freedom is slavery.

And we can’t have that. Freedom will have to go.