In the United States of America, you can say pretty much whatever you like. You can march in a Gay Pride Parade or march with the KKK. So long as you are not causing direct harm to another person as a result of your speech, you can say damn-near anything without fear of being arrested or sanctioned by the state.
And while that may be true, the right to free speech doesn’t guarantee that you won’t be seen as an asshole for the language you use. Just because you can say just about whatever you like doesn’t mean that you are free from castigation or criticism for your language.
Therein lies a fundamental misunderstanding of free speech that’s quite common today. More and more, when people are criticized publicly for, say, intolerant language, they complain about the “thought police” who are trying to “censor our speech.”
For instance, I recently shared this photo on Facebook:
A clever way of calling out Chick-fil-a for their anti-Gay agenda, it appeared as part of a recent public backlash against the fast food giant for their public support of Prop 8 and for their CEO’s anti-gay stance. In the comments on my Facebook, one young man lamented the “level of censorship” we are seeing in this country, referring to calls for a boycott against Chick-fil-a.