Two men walked into a bar.

"Hi, my name's Mr. Bill," said the shorter to the taller.

"My name's Uncle Sam," said the tall to the short.

"You wouldn't be?"

"Of course I am," said the older to the younger then they both ordered drinks.

"Fuck!" exclaimed the shorter and younger, "They don't have my favorite drink, goddamn stupid bar!"

"And isn't that a wonderful thing?"

"What the hell?"


The shorter man slammed a fist on the bar. "I'll have what he's having," he finally grumbled to the bartender. "Now tell me, what's so fucking wonderful about it?"

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

The bartender set a pint glass full of dark beer next to the shorter man who took a swig. "I'm not getting you, grandpa."

The older man's eyebrows raised. "This is the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, the first in a set of ten basic and fundamental rights given to you as an American citizen."

"So?" chided the other.

"Fuck!" Uncle Sam yelled loudly.

Mr. Bill jumped. The bartender leaned over to the two and said, "Sir, can you keep it down? I realize this is a bar, but it isn't necessary to broadcast."

"No problem, son, no problem," said Uncle Sam turning to the younger man. "Freedom of speech, you see?"

"Yeah and that bartender can stick it!"

"Not necessarily. You see, I have the freedom to speak my mind, but with that freedom comes responsibility."

"Bullshit. I can say whatever the hell I want whenever and wherever the hell I want."

"That's true. But still there's responsibility that comes with that right. For instance, do you see that man at the end of the bar? I am within my right to walk over to him and insult him, his clothing, the smell of his cologne, and tell him what I'd like to do with his mother."

Mr. Bill's eyes almost popped out of his head having heard this from such an old man.

"Not that I would," interjected Sam. "But if I choose to, the bartender would, as a representative of this private establishment, be well within his rights to ask me to leave."

"And if you didn't?"

"He would be within his right to have me forcibly removed for trespassing."

The younger man thought about this for a second. "So what's the point of having free speech if you get slammed every time you open your mouth?"

"There are in actuality few circumstances where what you say could have serious repercussions."

"Like what?"

"Exposing a CIA agent."


"If, for instance, I were an under cover agent for the CIA and you exposed me, you would be arrested, tried, and potentially found guilty of a felony."

"Oh. Well, I don't know any CIA agents--that I know of! So what else?"

"Have you ever signed a non-disclosure agreement?"

"Sure, I had to sign one for my last employer when I was hired."

"Something like that is a signed agreement between two parties that free speech is under certain limitations. By breaking that contract an employee can be dismissed."

"So what else?"

"Take for instance the opinion you expressed earlier."

"What, that this is a retarded bar?"

"That this is a 'goddamn stupid bar', if I remember correctly."

"That sounds about right. Bartender! Another drink! Anyway, continue," prompted Mr. Bill.

"Not only do you have a right to express a statement that other's might find blasphemous--freedom of religion, you see--but you also expressed a negative opinion about this establishment."

"Yeah, but what if I want to express a 'negative opinion' about a person?"

"Legally," continued Uncle Sam, "There isn't much difference between an establishment and a citizen."

"You're fucking with me."

"Strange but true, this establishment as any other has the right to protect its reputation."

"So I could get sued for calling it stupid?"

"Not at all. There's very little to limit you from expressing your opinion."

"That's good, because I have nothing good to say about it right now. So what if I wanted to call you a crazy old coot?"

"Then you have every right to."

"And if I called you a murderous letch?"

"Then you may have crossed the line."

"Back to that line again, I see."

"That line has to be drawn somewhere. Would you rather anarchy, limited freedom, or a cage?"

"I'll take anarchy, if you asked me."

"Fair enough. But how would you like it if someone told your significant other that you were a heroin addict?"

"Fuck you, that's not true!"

"And in an anarchy what would be the result of such unrestrained freedom?"

"Okay, okay, I get you. You said that I'd be ready to haul your ass into court."

"And you'd have every right to. Now can you tell me something you've done that you aren't exactly proud of having done, something you wouldn't mind telling a stranger?"

"Well," said Mr. Bill, "five or six years ago I was arrested and charged for driving under the influence."

"Does your partner know about that?"

"No, she doesn't, now that you ask... And frankly I'd rather she not know. Her father was killed by a drunk driver a few years before we met and the knowledge might easily destroy our relationship."

"And if I told her?"

"I'd fucking take you to court!"

"You could, true, but you'd loose."

"What?! I thought you said we have 'freedom of speech with responsibility'?!"

"It's quite simple."

"Okay. So?"

"So," started in the older man, "some states give you the right to take anyone to court for allegations of defamation, but once there the burden of proof is on the plaintiff."

"Well that's an easy one! I have the bartender that heard me tell you I have a DUI and my partner would tell anyone you were the one that told her."

"Yes, but you're missing the point."

"And the point is?"

"Imagine for a moment you were a news reporter. You'd learned the President of the United States recently purchased large numbers of stock in an oil company while at the same time pushing for legislation to ease that company's tax burden."

"Yeah, conflict of interest, I've heard of that."

"The point," continued Uncle Sam, "is that as a reporter you would have the right to report this story."


The older man shook his head from side to side then took a sip of his beer. "I doubt very much public officials enjoy such things being broadcast on the television or published in the newspapers or Internet."

"News wouldn't be news without a little controversy."

"Let me put it another way. If you reported this story the President and his cabinet might become extremely frustrated, even downright angry with you. But there's nothing they can do about it."

"And why's that?"

"Because," continued the older man, "if what you speak is the truth, then you're protected irregardless of what reaction others have to the information you've shared."

"So if I said he smokes crack I could potentially find myself in hot water?"

"Absolutely, if it's not true."

"And if I said something that's true but that could potentially end up getting him impeached?"

"Though he may be adversely affected by what you said, if the statement you made is true you're protected."

"Yeah, but he could still take me to court, right?"

"Correct, but again the burden of proof is on him to show that the statement made against him is untrue. And frankly few win such cases because the burden of proof is extraordinarily high."

"What if I wrote that someone was a whoring fuck of a cunt-rag?"

This time Uncle Sam flinched. "Not a very nice thing to say, but opinions are also protected as free speech. How else do you think movie critics could do their jobs without the producers taking them to court every time their films were given poor reviews?"

The younger man grinned. "I hear what you're saying. But why can I say something that's true and possibly damaging to someone but not say something that's untrue, even if no one's effected by it?"

"Because," continued the older, "most of the things we express are opinions and are subjective. That's not to say we shouldn't be held accountable for expressing our opinions and feelings, but they are a form of protected free speech. If we took away people's ability to express opinions, feelings, or telling an ugly truth, the ability to say anything without litigation would be almost impossible."

"That goes without saying."

"But at the same time it's important to protect people's character."

"Their character?"

"Correct. For instance, suppose I told your partner you had a DUI. I'd be telling the truth, correct? But the question is, would I be defaming your character?"

"Of course you would! I'm not the same person I was back then."

"No you're not, but if I said you'd gotten the DUI years ago I wouldn't be implying you're the same person now that you were then. I'd be discussing your documented behavior at that time and therefore your character at that time."

"So by all this rambling you're trying to tell me that you wouldn't be 'defaming my character' because I'd already done that to myself?"

"Bingo! I can't besmirch what's already besmirched--so to speak."

"So lets say I want to say something about someone that's untrue…"

"That's considered slander."

"Even if I'm just talking to a co-worker in the break room?"


"Okay, what if I wrote something about someone that was untrue…"

"That's called libel. And again, the important point here is that what's said or written must be untrue."

"Can't make this any more complicated can we?"

"Only as much as it needs to be," answered the old man with a wry smile.

"So what about this?" asked Mr. Bill while taking a large swig. "Here we are ranting like two drunks on the internet. What if someone stumbles on this conversation and becomes offended by it?"

"It's easy to take offense, especially for those who are always looking for something to critisize. But satire is a beautiful thing, my boy," the old man laughed, "and protected as well!"

And Mr. Bill lived happily ever after.