every time we invoke free speech to justify some unpopular idea, the unpopular idea becomes a little more tolerated, and free speech becomes a little less popular.
think of respect for free speech as a commons. Every time some group invokes free speech to say something controversial, they’re drawing from the commons – which is fine, that’s what the commons is there for. Presumably the commons self-replenishes at some slow rate as people learn philosophy or get into situations where free speech protects them and their allies.
But if you draw from the commons too quickly, then the commons disappears. When trolls say the most outrageous things possible, then retreat to “oh, but free speech”, they’re burning the commons for no reason, to the detriment of everybody else who needs it.
this is a more general principle: associating X with Y won’t just make supporters of X like Y more, it will also make opponents of Y hate X.
If principles are stronger than partisanship, then invoking principles is a great idea to rally people to your cause. If partisanship has grown stronger than principles, then even an incontrovertible proof that a certain principle supports your own tribe is going to turn out to be a gigantic booby prize. It won’t make the other side reconsider what errors have led them to contradict such hallowed ideals. It’s just going make half the population start hating the sacred principles necessary for society to function.
if you are looking for a test case specifically to promote the value of free speech, and you do it by deliberately searching for the ugliest and most hate-able person you can find, you’re doing it wrong.
If your pitch to potential supporters is “our science club was trying to learn about science, and we invited a well-known scientist, and now oh no we’re embroiled in a controversy, please help”, that’s a good test case. If your pitch is “our controversy club was trying to cause controversy, and we invited a well-known controversial person, and now oh no we’re embroiled in a controversy, please help”, that’s a bad test case. Even if you invited the same person both times.