Free speech is often hailed among the most significant of our fundamental freedoms. In the Western world in particular, freedom of speech and press has allowed for a range of voices, including voices of dissent that seem to indicate that our democracy is in a sense working. However, free speech is not completely free. There are limits and curbs based on what may be of greater importance in various contexts – such as if the speech might endanger others. That is why we can’t yell “fire” in a theater as a joke – the potential chaos and harm it raises in that context outweighs some one’s freedom to say what they want.
This week several news stories have covered a uniquely problematic situation in Houston, TX. Houston’s city officials subpoenaed sermons of local pastors who oppose an ordinance that provides certain protections for LGBT community members. The ordinance would ban discrimination against LGBT by businesses serving the public, private employers, housing, city employment and city contracting – including provision for transgender people who are denied access to a particular restroom to be able to file a discrimination complaint. The ordinance passed in May 2014 but is not yet implemented because of various legal matters. And, opponents are actively seeking to repeal the ordinance through a ballot measure. While this presents a range of legislative issues – the problem in Houston is much bigger than legislative discord.