Radley Balko on the ‘Terrifying’ New Threat to Free Speech in America

By September 4, 2015

Radley Balko, the award-winning reporter and author of Washington Post’s opinion blog The Watch, shares his thoughts on the biggest threats to free speech in America today, specifically increased public demand for protection from offensive speech and government crackdowns on extremism.

Balko called the idea that the government should police offensive speech “an impossible standard to enforce.”

“I mean, I’m offended by the notion that I can’t write something that offends people,” said Balko.

“At some level, some government official is going to have to decide whose claims to offense are legitimate,” he said. “We need to live in a society where you can say whatever you want, whenever you want as long as you’re not causing direct harm or violence to someone.”

As for the biggest free speech threats Balko thinks Americans face today:

“Despite the fact that we have a pretty robust First Amendment, there is a threat of government sort of cracking down on what’s seen as extremism,” said Balko.

“That’s terrifying when you think about it. [If] you look back on U.S. history, and the people who were considered extremists in their time, you’re talking about abolitionists, right? You’re talking about people who advocated for desegregation, [and] people who advocated against lynching,” Balko said of the types of views now widely accepted.

Balko also told FIRE about the path that led him to becoming an acclaimed civil liberties journalist, and about his struggle to reconcile his political views with the idea of “social censorship.”

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