Heckling, Free Speech, and Freedom of Association

Mind 133 (529):117-142 (2023)
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People sometimes use speech to interfere with other people’s speech, as in the case of a heckler sabotaging a lecture with constant interjections. Some people claim that such interference infringes upon free speech. Against this view, we argue that where competing speakers in a public forum both have an interest in speaking, free speech principles should not automatically give priority to the ‘official’ speaker. Given the ideals underlying free speech, heckling speech sometimes deserves priority. But what can we say, then, about situations in which heckling clearly seems to infringe upon people’s civil liberties, in a way that intuitively justifies intervention? In such cases, we argue, heckling infringes upon people’s associative freedom. We present and defend an ethical framework for the institutional management of ‘Speech Fights’, geared around this insight.

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Robert Mark Simpson
University College London

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References found in this work

Dangerous Speech.Jeffrey W. Howard - 2019 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 47 (2):208-254.
Freedom of association and the right to exclude.Stuart White - 1997 - Journal of Political Philosophy 5 (4):373–391.

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