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Friday, November 04, 2005

Freedom of Speech

We hear the term “Freedom of Speech” used a lot to justify certain actions and for the most part we all generally agree that the freedom to speak one’s mind is a good thing. However, I’m not so sure people always use this freedom correctly to justify actions. This article demonstrates a good example. Eric Verlo set up an anti-war camp in the parking lot of a building he rents from Colorado College. The college says it is “concerned” that the camp is in violation of city rules. “Verlo sees the issue of the camp as one of freedom of speech.” Verlo asks, “Why should you need a permit to disagree with government policies?” The problem with his statement is that he wrongly identifies the issue. Freedom of speech simply gives citizens the right to say what they want or to express any opinion they want, it does not give them the right to violate other laws.

Verlo complains that the college threatened to evict him because of his views. Well, if the college retained the property right to make the decisions about the use of the parking lot per the rental agreement, then Verlo must choose to remove the camp or move off the property if the college asked him to do so. However, if Verlo bought the right to use the parking lot however he wishes, then the college has no legal way to have him evicted. So, the issue here is who is in violation of the property right; the college by trying to evict Verlo or Verlo by keeping the camp? Freedom of speech is not the issue.

However, the college denies threatening to evict Verlo. They say they are concerned about city rule violations. I tend to doubt this is their real concern because I fail to see why they would be concerned about city violations. It is the job of city officials to find and fine violators, not the college’s. The college wouldn’t be fined so it’s not their problem and the college is not directly affected by a permit violation. However, assuming the college is just trying to encourage citizens to comply with the law, the issue still isn’t about free speech.

Is the law requiring a permit opposed to freedom of speech? I don’t think so unless the permit is required for the sole purpose of the government to stop people like Verlo from expressing their views. Then Velro’s question would have some merit. But, I do not believe this is the purpose of the law. Liberty would lead us to believe that any law that limits Verlo’s ability to use his property in any way he wants, as long as it doesn’t harm another individual, is an unjust law. Therefore, the issue is not freedom of speech, but rather or not property rights are being violated by the government using it’s coercive power to require a city permit.

Freedom of speech is a right that Americans have, however, it seems that people have a hard time identifying when in fact their freedom is being violated. It’s possible that Velro’s property rights are being violated, but unlikely his freedom of speech is being denied. If the property right still lies with the college they have the right to decide what opinions are expressed upon it. I can’t go into a stranger’s house and talk about my opinions without their permission and then claim freedom of speech, just as Velro can’t put up a camp in another person’s parking lot without their permission. However, if the property right lies with Velro, the college has no right to evict him.

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