Freedom of speech can be a slippery slope


We’re big proponents of free speech around here.

The right to express ourselves freely and without governmental retribution allows us to share information with our readers that might not always be popular with elected officials, and the ability of citizens to have a voice in public matters is critical in order to have a true democratic society. Things get done as fairly as they do in this country largely because people can speak their minds and share their opinions.

Now, free speech is not always easy.

I had a professor in college who said that protecting individuals’ rights to free speech is easy when that person is saying something we agree with, but much more challenging when that individual is saying something we find morally objectionable. Both, however, are equally important to protect for the process to work.

Remember when the Aryan group came to spew their bile at the Bethany Beach boardwalk last year? They had that right because of free speech, even if most of us found it objectionable. And, also due to the wonders of free speech, I can describe it as an Aryan group that “came to spew their bile.”

Freedom of speech allows Donald Trump to question the birth place of our sitting president, residents of a town to openly criticize a police chief in a public meeting and certain bald editors to go on wild digressions that sometimes creep into tasteless diatribes. Like this one time, I was writing about a town in Connecticut that was witnessing a big disagreement between its mayor and the local Fraternal Order of Police chapter, and I somehow got to writing about how homely I thought one of the ...

But I digress.

As wonderful as free speech can be, there are some limitations that fall under the auspices of public safety concerns. For instance, you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater because it could cause a stampede of people rushing for the door, which could obviously result in injuries. And, apparently, you can not tease a police dog, at least in Mason, Ohio.

According to an Associated Press story late last week, a man who was charged with teasing a police dog by barking at it is arguing that the city law violates free speech. His attorney, Jim Hardin, argued that barking may not be seen as intelligent speech, but is “still speech.”

Let’s give a little background here.

According to police, an officer was investigating a car crash near a pub when he heard the dog barking uncontrollably from inside his vehicle. When he went out to investigate what was causing the dog to bark, he said he found the suspect, Ryan Stephens, making barking and hissing noises at the dog.

The officer’s report quoted Stephens as saying “the dog started it” and described Stephens as appearing highly intoxicated. At some point, in my humble opinion, this went from being a free-speech issue to a drunken buffoon issue.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the beauty of having free speech. See what I did there?

Of course, sometimes, even when you’re not out barking at police dogs or looking for trouble, it tends to find you. Just ask this elderly couple from Pennsylvania.

Police in Upper Darby said the couple received a package at their home last week, and that the couple just left it on the porch to be picked up because they didn’t recognize the name on the package.

When nobody picked up the package, they got curious and opened it up — only to find a five-pound brick of high-grade marijuana, with a street value of about $10,000, according to police. Look, I get the wrong stuff delivered to my house all the time, but it’s usually post cards from insurance agents or the random utility bill, not the unused props from a Cheech and Chong movie.

There was no mention in the story as to whether or not the couple was listening to Phish CDs and eating Doritos.

See, I can say that because of free speech.