Does Heckling Violate Freedom of Speech?

[Angus Johnston] – Protesting against a speaker…
when is that an expression of your free speech rights, and when it is that a violation of
their free speech rights? There is no one-sentence answer to that question. At what point does a heck– [Audience member begins shouting] [Tom Slater] – Hold up! … We’re coming back out to you
in 30 seconds– Wait a second, hold on a second. You just interrupted me. Wait, wait, wait, wait. [Audience member continues shouting] [Angus Johnston] – Wait, wait, wait, no, wait,
listen to what I’m saying, please! You just interrupted me, did you violate my
free speech rights? Did you? [Audience member continues shouting] [Angus Johnston] – Wait, but did you just,
right. Okay, so, wait, hold on a second. Wait, wait, wait, wait. This is wonderful. I am loving this so much because I am being
prevented from finishing my sentence by people who feel like I am expressing in opposition
to free speech. This is great. This is exactly what I’m talking about. Wait, hold on a second, give me a sentence,
give me one more sentence to say why I think that you have the right to interrupt me. I’m here, I’ve got a microphone, I’ve got
a lot of power. I’ve got a lot of power in this room, not
as much as the guy with the the clock, but I’ve got a lot of power and so if I have a
microphone, I can speak over you. If you are interrupting me, I can push on
past you. I can wait ’til you’re done and then I can
respond. I can get the last word. There’s a lot of stuff that I can do, and so
I would say that when y’all start getting real frustrated with me and interrupting me,
you are not at all violating my free speech rights, you are expressing your free speech
rights, you are exercising your free speech rights. There comes a point, probably–maybe you cut
the mic, maybe you storm the stage, maybe you pull a fire alarm, right? Maybe there does come a point where my free
speech rights have been violated by your disruption, but certainly the disruption that we just
experienced was not a violation my free speech rights. And, so, it’s not just one sentence thing, because
it’s complicated. There is a mushy middle– [Audience member continues shouting] [Tom Slater] – Hold up, hold up. [Audience Member] – Excuse me, you like Antifa,
I’m just doing what they do. [Tom Slater] – And I’m gonna do what they
do and tell you to be quiet at this point. [Angus Johnston] – Can I just say one thing
and then we’ll move on? This room of civil libertarians is the first
time I’ve ever been interrupted as a speaker, so that’s wonderful. I love that. [ Brendan O’Neill] – One of the greatest things
ever written about freedom of speech was written in response to the heckling question, it was
“A Plea for Free Speech” by Frederick Douglass, the great abolitionist who wrote this piece
after a meeting of abolitionists in Boston was interrupted by racists and pro-slavery
people and shouted down, and he wrote a plea for free speech which is one of the best and
most passionate things you will ever read in defense of freedom of speech, so that wasn’t
a 1st Amendment issue, the state, Congress, government, was not interfering with his and
the other people’s rights. that was a matter of informal censorship enforced
by a mob. So this question of informal censorship has
been around for a long time, and if you want to know when heckling becomes a problem, i.e. when someone is prevented from speaking, read Frederick Douglass, read the minority groups who struggled
for freedom of speech for decades, who you now demean through saying, “Oh, free speech
doesn’t matter,” that’s the shocking thing, heroes of mine had their ears cut off, their
tongues pulled out, they were tied to the stocks, they were pelted with eggs, they were
jailed for years for expressing their freedom of speech. The idea that you would now turn against the
idea of freedom of speech is a grave insult to history and to the people who made our
lives as nice as they currently are.

39 thoughts on “Does Heckling Violate Freedom of Speech?

  • Heckling in a public place isn't a violation, but it could be restricted by house rules. Doesn't that pretty much cover it?

  • In the context of a speech or debate with a line of audience questioners at some point, hecklers are suppressing the free speech of those questioners who don’t get to ask their questions. They are effectively “jumping to the front of the line.” Just like cutting in line, you better have a good reason for that extreme action lest you look like a selfish jerk.

  • Well filibuster as long until you get interrupted, then play the victim and shame your opponent by falsely claiming that you never have been interrupted as a speaker before. Just a banale SJW tactic.

  • He's right that the person with the microphone has great individual power. But what is frustrating for the right and for libertarians is we don't get nearly as many microphones as the left does. The have the mics, the press, the cameras, the fucking internet to the extent you can control that. So when we finally get a Mic and the left sends their astro turf rent a mobs to scream over us we are very frustrated, we think there has to be a recourse we can justly seek. Even if that recourse is ironically not the most liberty minded.

  • I wonder if this was staged. It was the only interruption in the entire hour and a half. And she was not allowed to ask any question by the moderator, supposedly as a penalty.

  • Sure he holds more power in the room but that's because he is a speaker, and people have come there to listen to him speak, so they are in different positions. It's not balanced but it doesn't need correcting in my opinion. If you want you can have a meeting with a different structure, maybe in a circle, where everyone is welcome to comment and participate as equals and there are no speakers, just attendees.

  • "Does Heckling Violate Freedom of Speech?"

    In short, no; however, it does prevent civil discourse. Civil discourse is related to the freedom of speech but different, and by no means is civil discourse a fundamental right of an individual.
    In other words, an individual's right to freedom of speech is too often misinterpreted as a right to be heard. Nobody is obligated to listen to anyone else; the individual speaker's goal is to have a compelling message to encourage the "mob" to hear him.

  • I expect as always it's a matter of how it's done.

    Sometimes heckling just involves someone in the crowd putting a point across, and can actually contribute to the debate.

    Other times heckling can be used to disrupt the speaker and stop them getting their point across altogether, which is clearly more about stopping the speaker than adding to the debate.

  • I do not have any well formed opinions when heckling violates freedom of speech in a public space.
    I do have well formed opinion when it violates freedom of speech in a private space.
    The metric should not be whether you have deprived the Speaker of their ability to effectively vocalize their ideas – it should be whether you have deprived a member of the audience, who has come to listen to the Speaker, their right to hear the Speaker's ideas.
    Freedom of speech is the freedom to hear ideas.
    Freedom of speech is the freedom to have your ideas challenged.
    Freedom of speech is the freedom to be proven wrong.
    Freedom of speech is a burdensome responsibility.
    Freedom of speech is how we stand vigilant against our worst impulses.
    The price (condition) of freedom is eternal vigilance.

  • No, you are either free to say whatever you want, wherever you want, whenever you want or you're not.

    You either have freedom of speech or you don't.

  • Why are there so many foreigners involved in American issues and civil debates? Who the hell invited these Australians or wherever they come from? Don't they have their own countries to be dealing with?

  • There is an easy one sentence answer; As long as you are not physically prevented from speaking, you are in no way violating free speech. This is not complicated, you are just stupid.

  • Hecklers do make it very hard for a public forum for the discussion of ideas to be meaningful or substantive. If there is a contract (sometimes implied) that all members of the audience be quiet and listen to the speakers and wait until they are given the opportunity to speak then a heckler is violating that contract. If the speaker is filibustering then there should be a separate contract for that. THIS ISN"T ROCKET SCIENCE, PEOPLE!

  • it may not be a violation of our constitutional right to free speech, but it is a violation of a contract in a sense. everyone that sits down in an auditorium has essentially agreed to be a passive audience member, so heckling violates the contract between you and the speaker and you and the person sitting next to you

  • In a private space, free speech has no guarantees and hecklers are to be thrown out.

    In a public space, barring house rules, heckling is not a matter of free speech being suppressed at all. The speaker has the same right to voice their opinions, just as audience members have the same right to shout them down as well. Is it civil? No, but that's a matter of civility and etiquette, not a matter of someone's right to free speech being violated. Unless you are being dragged into jail or being prevented by authorities to state your mind, your free speech isn't being violated. Everyone has a right to voice themselves but no one is entitled to listen to you. Doesn't make for a productive session, but claiming that your "free speech is being suppressed" is disingenuous.

  • Free speech gives people the right to say they want to.Some cases the hecklers don't violate free speech, some do. The issue depends on how they do it and how abusive they get. However, there are issues when you start to heckle at a public discussion where people pay to attend or people are being paid to speak. In those cases hecklers are not exercising freedom of speech, but are stealing value from the others in the audience and the speaker. If they didn't want to hear the person speak, they need only have stayed away or walked out, but by shouting abuse and disrupting the speech they're stealing from those who do want to listen to them speak. Abusive heckling is usually done by those who object to allowing others to exercise their freedom of speech to say something the hecklers don't like.

  • If I go to hear someone speak, I want to hear their thoughts, whether I agree or disagree.  If they make outrageous statements, I don't have issues with the crowd responding.  What I do vehemently disagree with is a group that will not even allow them to get a word out.  I agree it is a difficult subject.

  • It seems to me that the argument regarding freedom of speech in fact comes down to the "freedom to hear" someone speak.


  • Heckling is not a violation of Freedom of Speech, it is however a disturbance of peace, and you can be legally removed from the property by order of the owner and through police action.

  • Their version of freedom of speech: BLAH BLAH BLAH! (Continuously outloudly) while walking through town. I can now arrest any person who dares speaks for violating my freedom of speech rights.

  • I don't see this as a complicated question. Heckling/interrupting crosses the line when you are not allowing the other person to defend himself and their ideas/arguments. When you are no longer willing to listen, at that point you are no longer debating/arguing/talking, you are preaching.

  • Heckling is communism. I don't want to work establishing my own lecture so let's steal someone else's. Equality. When everyone's lectures are being stolen nobody wants to invest in improving their lecture. And everyone is equall as in everyone is equally miserable.

  • The Question: Does Heckling Violate Freedom of Speech?
    Your Answer: Only when the Government heckles is it a crime.

    My Answer: Their are two aspects to speech, the talker and the listener. If you are talking on the street to a small group of people and someone is heckling you, such is the nature of the street. If you are on stage talking about a predetermined topic at a predetermined time and a small group of people are heckling you, a crime is taking place. The crime isn't against the speaker, but the listener. The listener paid time, money, and effort to be their with the purpose to hear what the speaker has to say. The listener has the right to listen without the harassment of hecklers. Hecklers don't attack the speaker, they attack the listeners by interfering with their right to listen.

  • Any string of words made by an american citizen is covered by free speech first amendment hate or peace, interruption or silence

  • A single guy breaking the "rules" by making an "out of protocol" interruption to shout something can be heckling, but doesn't violate freedom of speech.
    A mob that tries to drown a speaker with noise or louder amplification or other tactics, on the other hand, does.
    There's a difference.
    Now, many hecklers know how to spur an audience to become a mob, so that's easily a slippery slope down to outright censorship, or even violence.

    And the guy with the glasses is an idiot.

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