A while back here I explained exactly what free speech means. To summarize the point of that post, free speech is when speech is free from any kind of control. That is why it is called "free". If you notice this is synonymous with the term "free market". A "free" market is a market which is free from control. That is all what free speech means, it is a rather simple concept, that what people say and what people believe, and write, is not controlled in any manner, or prohibited from being expressed or written. Indeed, the First Amendment makes this very clear when it says that "... shall pass no law ... ".
It is sad enough that a lot of people do not know what free speech even is. How many people believe in restrictions to what people can say, especially if it is towards race or sex? What is just as bad, or perhaps worse, is that these people cannot explain to you why free speech is important.
The general response to why free speech is important that you would most likely hear is that free speech allows for all ideas to express themselves. So that people would be able to decide for themselves what they want to believe and what not. In a free society people should be able to decide for themselves what they want to believe, and free speech is what allows for that.
And that is true. I am not disputing the above answer. However, I have a question on that answer. If the importance of free speech is that it allows for people to spread their ideas freely amongst themselves then why not have the state set standards?
I think we can all agree that anyone spreading the ideas to kill the Juden is not really spreading any idea, but spreading hatred around. And hatred is harmful for society. Hatred is not any kind of idea that has any kind of value at all, instead it is extremely negative. So the state should set standards to what people can say? Hatred should be made illegal. No one can publish a book that puts hatred towards a particular group of people, that is not an idea anymore, and so it have no value to it. Offensive remarks made about individuals have no purpose either other than to offend. Offensive speech directed toward an individual in a book or on TV, or any other place that spreads information, should be illegal. This kind of speech does not add anything to the marketplace of ideas, we can agree to that. Rather it just makes people fight amongst themselves, it is counter-productive.
The sad thing is that a lot of people do agree with what I just said. If I expressed that above position with respect to free speech a lot of people would agree. They will say "yes, I agree, there needs to be standards set for a better society".
So what makes free speech important? The answer is very simple. Free speech is important because no one has the power to decide what can be said.
If a group of armed people has the power to what can be said and cannot be said do not be surprised that they will use that kind of power to their own advantage. You cannot trust power, you cannot trust the state that it will "set standards", as people claim, but rather it will gain an enormous amount of power over the content of what can be said.
The First Amendment was put there not for porn, but for speech against the state. If the state is doing something terrible it cannot have the power to silence the opposition and attempt to prevent those ideas from being spread. It is true that porn, just like anything else, falls into the category of free speech. But the true intent of free speech, its real intention, is to oppose tyranny.
Now I take it one step further and I call it the Zero Amendment, which was never part of the Constitution, which says " ... the state shall pass no law with regard to anything ... ". And this is a radical idea, I agree, but it is based on the same concept. You cannot trust the state with anything. A lot of people say the state should set standards for the economy. But just like with my position with free speech I simply do not buy into that premise. I do not accept that they are on your side and that they care about you, rather they are a power structure which will grow in its power over time (as they clearly have, by enormous amounts). So when people say that the state needs to "set standards for the economy", I simply think to myself, "do I want them to set standards for free speech?". Just like the fear with speech is that they will silence opposition, so to the fear with economics. That is, they will use their control over the economy to benefit themselves and gain more power. You simply cannot trust this kind of a power. Their monopoly on power must be broken.