Ken White deconstructs the “fire in a crowded theater” canard about free speech

Why Evolution Is True

In 2012 at the legal blog Popehat, Ken White, a criminal defense lawyer and free-speech maven, deconstructed the famous phrase uttered by Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. in an opinion about “free speech” in wartime. In 1919 there was a series of three Supreme Court decisions against men (socialists, foreigners, and anarchists) who spoke and published pamphlets against America’s participation in World War I—as well as against conscription (the draft). In all three cases, Holmes and the Court upheld the convictions, and each person was sentenced to ten years in prison for producing what today would be considered free speech.

Although White’s post, “Three generations of a hackneyed apologia for censorship are enough“, is a bit long, it’s well worth reading, for it shows how increasing tolerance for speech has evolved, as well as how Holmes’s famous statement has been misused to advocate continuing censorship…

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