Enemies of freedom cite prohibiting falsely shouting “fire” in a crowded theater as an example of the necessity of sometimes violating freedom, in this case, the freedom of speech. The truth is that it is the person falsely shouting “fire” who is the violator of freedom.
The freedom he violates is the freedom of the audience members and the theater owner to contract for the production and enjoyment of a theatrical performance, whether live or on film. The audience members have bought tickets and have a property right in the performance.
Thus, the person who falsely shouts “fire” is destroying what is the property of the audience members. At the same time he is implicitly trespassing on the property of the theater owner.
The theater owner has admitted him to the theater on the implicit assumption that he is there to watch a performance, not to destroy the right of others to watch it. Doing that is using the owner’s property against his will. It is a form of theft.
Ironically, so far from being the victim of a violation of his freedom of speech, it is the person falsely shouting “fire” who is violating the freedom of speech.
In falsely shouting “fire,” he violates the freedom of speech of the actors, playwrights or screenwriters, and of the theater owner. Their spoken content, or role in its creation or dissemination, is suppressed by the false shout of “fire.”
Thus, so far from being a violation of freedom of speech, to the extent that the threat of a fine or jail term for someone falsely shouting “fire” in a crowded theater prevents such actions, it serves to protect and uphold the freedom of speech and freedom in general.
All this applies to today’s disruptions on college campuses. Serious penalties for disrupters shouting down an invited speaker are essential to restore freedom of speech there. There is no more a freedom to disrupt a lecture by means of speech or noise-making of any kind than there is to shout “fire.”
To learn more, go to http://amazon.com/author/george-reisman. A good place to start is with the Kindle book “Freedom.” (This essay can also be found in Chapter 1 of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics, a book which provides practically a full education on the subjects of capitalism and economics.)