If you want to find out if people really believe in free speech, say something outrageous and offensive and see how many of them defend your right to say it. Recently, many Americans took serious offense to this:
Personally, I find the offense only makes the whole thing more amusing. Maybe I just get the humor because I'm Canadian, but Brian was the one who saw the video first and passed it on to me, and every American friend I've sent it to thought it was hysterical.
Maybe my friends are just more enlightened. Or maybe they all truly believe in free speech.
However, I did find myself on the other side of the line recently on an issue that sparked a bit of debate in our house.
It turns out that in Calgary, some might argue that abuse of free speech equals obstructing justice.
It's easy to talk about freedom of speech, when you're not the one speaking to a funeral director.
That's the grim reality for two families -- making plans to buy coffins and say goodbye, less than 24 hours after the horror of an alleged drunk-driving wreck scarred their lives.
Two dead 20-year-olds, in what Calgary police say was a high-speed collision involving alcohol and a red light -- a light the suspected drunk driver missed, moments before her car slammed into a Mercedes.
The 25-year-old at the wheel lived, while her passenger and the innocent stranger driving the other car were killed.
What do these tragedies have to do with free speech?
It turns out that some people have created twitter accounts and are taking advantage of social media sites to inform the public about Checkstop locations so that drivers who've been drinking can avoid being caught by the police.
"It's freedom of speech. No one can tell me I can't do something if I don't feel like doing it, and that's the freedom of the Internet."
So says Aaron Pratt, one of a handful of social media regulars at the eye of a moral tempest involving drunk driving and the freedom to type whatever you like online.
Local government and police are not happy about the growing trend, and I don't think we've heard the last of this.
When I mentioned this article to Brian, he defended the right of free speech. I disagree, in this case. Whether or not the courts may ultimately agree with him or me has yet to be seen, but there are many instances in which the right of free speech is subjected to greater concerns. If a person threatens to assassinate the president, or goes into a crowded theater and yells, "Bomb!" they can try to hide behind the right of free speech all they like, but that won't help them in court.
When I read the article about the Checkstop tweeters, I wondered how these drunk drivers could actually read the tweets and register that they should take a different route. I wondered if anyone could prove in any of the cases mentioned that the drunk drivers, or their passengers, had read the Checkstop tweets.
I wondered about the motives. Why would a person go to the trouble of locating Checkstops and broadcasting that information through social media? Does their motivation limit or increase their responsibility for anything that happens as a result of sharing that information?
And then I thought about how many crimes go unreported, how many witnesses don't come forward and how many people endure abuse because people opt for their own convenience instead of standing up for someone else, and I found myself wondering why it is people have so much energy when it comes to helping others evade the law, but are nowhere to be found when people need help.
Today, of all days, is a day we should celebrate the right to free speech. It's a day we pay tribute to a man who literally did change the world.
But at the same time, I think we have to stop using our rights as justification for irresponsible behavior.