Too often claims of "free speech" in response to objections to controversial speech is really just a dodge of a real discussion of the issue. Free speech usually isn't the issue at all, which was the case earlier this week at Columbia University. The appeal of "free speech" usually is just meant to shut down a discussion.
Free speech is something the government is not to violate; it has nothing to do with private citizens and forums. And it certainly isn't meant to keep people from expressing their disagreement with someone else's expressed ideas. And it's an unfair way to try to win a debate. Someone says something the second person objects to. So the first person cries foul, "You're violating my free speech." So the first person to speak wins by default if "free speech" means no objections allowed. Of course, that's not what it means at all and that's why it's non-responsive.
Robust free speech means engaging the content of ideas and hopefully the best ones become clear. Free speech doesn't protect anyone from another's speech.
Jonah Goldberg expresses this in his column:
...and I have the right to my opinions, too. But somehow I’m anti-free speech when I voice them.
This whole line of argumentation is a sign of intellectual weakness or cowardice. Take, for example, that mossy cliché “I may disagree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it!”
The only reasonable response is, “Who gives a rat’s patoot?” If I deny the reality of the Holocaust, or insist that “2 plus 2 equals a duck,” or that I can make ten-minute brownies in six minutes, responding that you may disagree with what I say but will defend my right to say it is a shabby way to sound courageous while actually taking a spineless dive. How brave of you to defend me from a threat that doesn’t exist while lamely avoiding actually challenging my statements.