How much free speech?


Much press and television coverage has been given to the pro-Hamas and pro-Palestinian protesters who, in recent days, have chanted, among other things, “Death to America.” Some protesters have burned the American flag, causing no little amount of anger and anguish among many patriotic Americans. Some who were angered and who were interviewed said something like, “Why doesn’t somebody do something?” But “somebody” already has.

On December 15, 1791, almost 223 years ago, the United States Bill of Rights was finally ratified and became the law of the land. Those first ten amendments to the U. S. Constitution were not lengthy. In truth they were incredibly brief, yet those men, who had lived much of their lives as colonists and British subjects with restricted freedoms, felt compelled to set down fundamental rights of the citizens of this new nation.

Among those additions to the Constitution was the First Amendment, which states: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Though brief, the amendment is pregnant with meaning. At least six fundamental rights are named, including “freedom of speech” and freedom “of the press.” What this means is, even though a large percentage of the population may find someone’s speech offensive, erroneous, or even despicable, those who speak have a right to do so. Thus, the pro-Hamas, anti-Israel, and anti-American rhetoric of a few (or the many) is not to be prohibited.

There are many examples of offensive speech that have been given voice in recent years. According to, in 2015, “Protesters in a Black Lives Matter march held outside the Minnesota State Fair over the weekend were captured on video yelling “pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon…” Needless to say, police were rankled at the offensive remarks, as were millions of Americans, but the speech was protected.

Westboro Baptist Church, an unaffiliated Primitive Baptist Church, in Topeka, Kansas, protested for years, even at the funerals of American military personnel killed in action, with such signs as, “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “God Hates Fags,” “Jews Killed Jesus,” “Thank God for IED’s” (that’s “improvised explosive devices that killed and maimed hundreds of soldiers, if not thousands), “God Hates You,” and many other statements including “Thank God for 9/11.” Members of a small church several miles from Newnan, GA similarly protested for years near the shopping centers at Highway 34 and I-85.

Even the Ku Klux Klan, the members of ANTIFA, the American Nazi Party, the Nation of Islam, and other groups with repugnant ideologies, have the right of free speech and all the rights of the first Ten Amendments. And I have the right to call the ideologies of these groups “repugnant.” And others have the right to disagree with and criticize my personal opinions and beliefs. It’s a fundamental right of all American citizens.

Here’s what a few others have said:

“Everyone is in favor of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people’s idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage.” — Winston Churchill

“To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.” — Frederick Douglass

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” — George Orwell

“I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so.” — Barack Obama

The so-called “Cancel Culture” which seeks to restrict or eliminate “offensive” ideas and speech is not only destructive, but also anti-American and anti-freedom.

In America, there is no constitutional right to not be offended. And there is certainly no right to suppress the speech and ideas of others.

So, while I personally find support of the pro-Hamas terrorists and their slaughter of 1,200 innocents on October 7, 2023, troubling, disturbing, and indicative of warped and despicable thinking, there’s that First Amendment thing.

If free speech foments destructive actions, leads to violence, or causes the disruption of a functioning society. that’s another thing entirely that can and should be addressed by law enforcement. But say or write what you want. It’s the American way.

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King ( Worship services are on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. and on livestream at He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South ( He may be contacted at He has been a weekly opinion columnist for the The Citizen for over 27 years.]


  1. Fr. Epps I was with you until the next to last paragraph, and I do not see how murdering 1200 people fits free speech (and referencing those killings does not support your theme). Seems misplaced.

    • I was merely stating that if someone voices pro-Hamas sentiments, as repugnant and despicable as they may be, in America they have the right to express an opinion. There may be consequences for that speech (the loss of a job, public disgust, being shunned by reasonable people) but as long as violence is not advocated or perpetrated, people can say what they want. Similarly, people have the right to peacefully protest. They do not have the right to shut down bridges and roads or prevent people from going to work. They certainly have no right to threaten people, loot businesses, and destroy property. Those actions are criminal and should be dealt with as such.
      David Epps

      • You are correct, Father Epps. There is no such thing as free speech if it does not protect the nonviolent freedom to express opinions considered wrong by the majority. Of course, the First Amendment only covers freedom from government interference with free speech. As you point out, private citizens and companies may levy consequences to those who express repugnant opinions in rejecting them from their clubs, social groups, workplaces, etc.

  2. David Epps is 100% correct-we must let non-violent Americans say what they will as guaranteed in our Constitution.
    One free speech aspect that he did not discuss was “cancel culture”. Both liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans are familiar with the term. But they define it differently.
    Specific examples of cancel culture abound in both the liberal and conservative spheres. A good example is the major GOP effort to stop CRT (critical race theory) from being taught. CRT is a controversial legal theory regarding the basis of racism and is not being taught in any of our public schools.

    Unfortunately, some school districts are incorrectly redefining CRT as any mention of slavery and the harm that it has brought to our nation and its minority citizens. Harm that continues to this day in the form of poor educational status, health, and economic well-being for African Americans. Ironically, these school districts want our teachers to ignore historical facts and teach slavery was not the cause of the civil war. Or that it is not relevant to the position of African-Americans in our society today.

    On the left, there have also been cancel culture initiatives. Comedian Dave Chappelle was heavily criticized when he made some intemperate remarks about transsexuals in a 2021 Netflix special. A few years ago, comedian Kevin Hart dumb homophobic tweets got him into trouble.

    Whoopi Goldberg was suspended for 2 weeks from the View after making ignorant remarks about Jews and the Holocaust. Spotify talk show star Joe Rogan was caught repeatedly using the “n-word” on past shows. Many liberals called for his removal. And then there was the tempest in a teapot about Senator Al Franken’s sophomoric photo ogling a woman. Although he did nothing illegal, he was driven out of office by feminists, a big loss for the Democratic Party.

    Each cancel culture instance is different and unique. In a very few instances, cancel culture actions are warranted. For example, not giving a public platform to people advocating violence. Per Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in Debs v. United States “a man falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic” is not covered under Constitutional free speech.

    However, most times censorship is not warranted. The censoring of public school discussions of racism as part of American history is a clear example of politics restricting free speech and ignoring facts.

    • Well stated, Fr Epps. There are many despicable people in our society who use free speech to prove themselves worthy of the title daily, but it must be allowed “in the public square” of social media, college campuses, government, etc..

      What I find troubling are those who would use “free speech” to groom and indoctrinate children in destructive values. Critical Race Theory (CRT), which Mr Jack and others here advocate, is one such topic.

      CRT says that white people have historically been racist oppressors of non-whites, and that it continues systemically today. According to Ibrahn X Kendi, in his book, “How To Be An Anti-Racist”, the power of government laws and regulations must be changed to assure racial equity (equal outcomes), even at the expense of discriminating against others (white people).

      Kendi says, “The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination”

      Mr Jack thinks this is OK for schools to teach children. But CRT is not “discussions of racism as part of American history”, which I agree we must teach so that it will not be repeated. CRT is a twisted set of values that argues for current race-based beliefs and actions, far from treating people as individuals judged by their character.

      And any Google search will bring up dozens of examples of CRT and softer-sounding diversity / social justice / equity programs in public schools, government, Corporate America and the military from across the US.

      Mr Jack is wrong about CRT. Our communities are not made better by teaching children (or adults) to divide and discriminate by race.

      Free speech does not mean “anything goes” in the values we teach our children in schools.