“Fire” in a crowded theater

Article by Colonel Nogov on Jan. 28,2015


The level of intellectual understanding in your typical statist is low.  If someone says freedom of speech is not absolute, after all you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater, they take that sentence as true.  It makes sense, you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater.  They conclude that freedom of speech is limited or should be limited.  That’s not the case.

Why can’t you yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater?  Because it’s not about freedom of speech, it’s about property rights.

The movie theater owner has the right to establish rules for his movie theater.  As a movie going customer of the theater, there are both expressed and implied things you agree to when entering the movie theater owner’s property.  The expressed agreement is payment.  You agree to pay the ticket price to see the movie.  There are also implied agreements on your part.

What is implied is that you agree to not intentionally disrupt the movie and disturb others.  Whether that means poking the guy sitting next to you, being the annoying cell phone guy, or yes yelling “fire” in the theater when there isn’t actually a fire emergency.  If you do those things, the property owner has every right to ask you to leave and even ban you from coming back on the property.  In severe cases he might even pursue damages against you.

What other implied agreements might there be?  You can’t vandalize the place.  You can’t steal things.  You can’t piss on the floor.  These things are implied as is being a nuisance.

Freedom of speech in no way should be limited, but some people don’t quite understand what that means.  They confuse freedom of speech with someone providing you a place to speak freely.  The movie theater example.

We’re back in the movie theater again and some guy decides he’s going to exercise his right to free speech and religion.  Before the movie starts he stands up in the front of the crowded theater and begins preaching about god.  Is it okay if he does that?  After all he’s only exercising his right to free speech.  Once again the answer is no because of property rights.  The movie theater owner has the right to disallow people from getting up in front of his movie theater to preach.  It doesn’t matter if it’s about god or anything else.  The property owner has the right to forbid such behavior on his property.  He doesn’t have to provide you with a platform.

The man’s right to free speech has in no way been denied.  He is free to go to other places, where and if he’s allowed to, and make his speech.  The same is true on the internet.  If you have your own website, you can say anything you want there, but just because you can say anything you want on your own website, doesn’t mean you can go to other people’s websites and say anything you want there.  The website owner you visit may allow or encourage a lively debate on their website, but they still may ban certain speech or practices.  Once again it’s property rights.  Your right to free speech isn’t being denied, it’s only being disallowed on that persons property by the property owners choosing.

Just because free speech is (or should be) absolute, that doesn’t mean someone else has to provide or allow you the use of their platform.

If an individual property owner bans certain speech within his property, it’s not censorship.  You’re still allowed your speech, just not upon his property.

If your speech is banned everywhere including your own property, that is censorship, and only the government does that.