God has created human beings with the ability to speak and hear. Why has he done so? Because we are limited human being dependent on each other for our needs and wants in order to survive. Through speech we can we can help each other to know the truth and the good by which to live a good life. We have a natural inclination to freely speak. So, if we are already by nature free to express ourselves, what do we mean by "Freedom of Speech"? In general we mean that we have the freedom to speak at any time but not the right to do so if our speech or self expression brings harm to others. "Speech, in short, is never a value in and of itself but is always produced within the precincts of some assumed conception of the good" (Fish, 1994, 104). (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Freedom of Speech)
Freedom of speech in the political arena was first promoted by the Greeks who saw it as the main method of attaining political and moral truth. "The method of dialectics is to confront ideas with opposite ideas in order that the pro and cons of the dispute will lead to true ideas. But the dispute must not be treated as a trial of strength. It must be a means of elucidation. In a Socratic dialogue the disputants are arguing co-operatively in order to acquire more wisdom than either of them had when they began." (Walter Lippmann, The Public Philosophy, The New American Library Inc., NY, 1955, p. 97) Today in our American culture the word "speech" has been extended to mean any form of human expression -- verbal, nonverbal, visual and symbolic (e.g. flag burning).
What are the limits of "Freedom of Speech"? No one has the right to lie or deceive because this is contrary to truth and the common good of society. No one has the right to yell "fire" in a situation where this would cause panic thereby blocking the way out of a confined space such as a crowded dance hall. No one has the right to preach and entice terrorism. Many times in the media (movies, news, books, etc., we are presented with one side of a dispute which cannot be immediately confronted by the opposite opinion. This being the case, freedom of speech, can become a vehicle of exploitation of ignorance and a means to incite the passions. Walter Lippmann has made the observation that freedom of speech is not worth defending when it becomes a hullabaloo of sophistry, propaganda, special pleading, lobbying, and salesmanship." (Ibid., p.98)
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that Congress shall not make any laws prohibiting freedom of speech. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, has restricted freedom of speech or expression in certain cases for the common good. "For example, the Court has decided that the First Amendment provides no protection to obscenity, child pornography, or speech that constitutes' advocacy of the use of force or of law violation ... where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.'