The Public Sidewalk: Enemy to Freedom of Speech

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Americans have
been duped for years into thinking that by right of possessing vocal
chords they may hence disgorge whatever ramblings they have in succession
of their mind. After all it is their constitutional right, yes?

It is the purpose
of this article to show how such a conclusion is mistaken and how
this perversion is actually an enemy of liberty.

Rights and Funeral Protesting

Rev. Fred Phelps
and his Westboro Baptist Church have been picketing their memorandum
of god-hate for nearly 20 years. If you are yet to witness the distasteful
hatred of anti-gay protesters waving signs outside the funerals
of dead soldiers, signs of the likes of “God hates fags” and “Thank
God for dead soldiers,” then I invite you to watch this short clip
of Hannity & Colmes. The revulsion from such film is immense,
but the question of causality is straightforward. To recap the great
giant of liberty Murray N. Rothbard, there can be no crime against
one’s image or reputation, only one’s property.

‘reputation’ is not and cannot be ‘owned’ by him, since it is
purely a function of the subjective feelings and attitudes held
by other people. But since no one can ever truly ‘own’ the mind
and attitude of another, this means that no one can literally
have a property right in his ‘reputation.’ A person’s reputation
fluctuates all the time, in accordance with the attitudes and
opinions of the rest of the population.” (For
a New Liberty
, chapter 6, page 117)

the sheer act of protest is free from liability as long as the protesters
have legal admittance to the property from which they protest. Here
is where the perversion of sidewalk communalism takes up position.

By way of common
ownership individuals cannot be barred from any specific sidewalk
unless they are in direct violation of some municipality’s accord.
Thus, anyone may travel along the sidewalks outside of businesses,
homes, churches, etc. demanding that his or her voice be heard in
the name of free speech. Even unsympathetic listeners will reframe
from quarrels in opposition to these protesters because they too
support this “supposed” freedom.   

But freedom
does not signify you right to speech; property signifies your right
to speech.

Surely freedom
of speech cannot take place from any location one chooses. Surely,
for example, someone cannot stand in my kitchen or my living room
and protest what I may eat or watch on my television. If they did
they would be in violation of my rights to ownership and potentially
held responsible for trespassing. No sane individual would argue
in opposition to this example since no sane individual would argue
against the right of property owners to make such decisions.  

Why are sidewalks
so different from other property?

If sidewalks
were privatized then owners would have the right to remove any individual
whom they deem bothersome as well as charge individuals for their

(Most knee-jerk
reactions will involve something along the lines of “what if the
sidewalk owner entraps you” or "why should I have to pay
to walk down the block." Although these questions have been
addressed elsewhere, it is beyond the scope of this article. I
encourage readers seek such answers through The
Privatization of Roads and Highways: Human and Economic Factors

Block, Walter. 2009.)

if Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church wish to hang out
on the street corner and protest their stupidity, they must pay
for it. Yet, because there is currently no fee associated with sidewalk
use these individuals have thus freely picketed more than 20,000
street corners within a span of 20 years.

this situation is not one of freedom of speech versus defamation
of character, or freedom of speech versus reverence for one's country;
it is not concerning freedom of speech at all, since freedom of
speech presupposes a platform from which to speak.

It is about

Who owns the
property from which the protesters shout? If the answer to this
question is uncertain or bleak, then you have located your problem.

let us reexamine this scenario under the lens of property rights.
If anti-gay activists wish to celebrate the deaths of gay soldiers
or police officers then they must first purchase the right to do
so. They must either rent or buy the space from which they desire
to shout.

family members of dead soldiers or gays would have the option of
choosing funeral homes that contract no anti-gay protests. Or family
members could agree to allow such protests at a discounted price.

in the end, anti-gay protesters must be willing to subsidize the
funerals of gays in order to wave their signs.

6, 2010

Dyke [send him mail]
is a math teacher who hails free markets and freedom of choice.

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