Twenty years ago the late comedian Bill Hicks felt obliged to defend the blasphemous content of his stand-up routine. In so doing he said something remarkably insightful.
‘Freedom of speech’ means you support the right of people to say exactly those ideas which you do not agree with.
Hicks is right. However, it is too bad he did not actually mean what he said.
The Founding Fathers promoted Freedom of Speech because they did not want to lose their heads merely for disagreeing with the king. They wanted to be able to say exactly those ideas the king would not like. Therefore, the established the right of people to say exactly those ideas other people, especially people in power, do not agree with.
So far, so good.
The problem is that today, many people toss off the phrase “Freedom of Speech” as if it is a constitutional defense of any expression. Freedom of Speech protects ideas, especially ideas that might threaten the interests of the powerful in exploiting the weak. It was never intended to let people say (or draw, or film) anything they want.
If you cannot express your idea in a non-”blasphemous” way, perhaps your idea is not worth expressing at all.
Over time, people have gradually lost the ability and the social censure to restrain themselves. There are kids in school who seem unable to speak an obscenity-free sentence. Voltaire said, “The man of taste will read only what is good; but the statesman will permit both bad and good.” Our society seems less and less capable of producing children (and finally adults) of taste. As Paul of Tarsus wisely advised, “...fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable.” A mind full of treasure has no room for trash.