Free speech is important because it allows you to talk about injustice. If the people in control of the country can control the flow of speech, then they can get away with doing bad things and change their own image at their will. Some countries censor the news or there is only one official news agency and it belongs to the government. These regimes are often the cruelest and least transparent ones. Fundamentalists like them can create their own reality that really only exists in their heads.
The downside of protecting free speech is protecting speech that you don't really care for. I think it's important to do that because it's really an all-or-nothing kind of issue. If you're not totally for it, then you're against it. And protecting someone else's right to free speech when you don't care for the message might encourage those who disagree with you to stand up for your right to say what you want as well.
If people aren't allowed to express themselves, then we can't understand or relate to their ideas, issues or problems.
The best way to respond to offensive speech is to ignore it. You can address it head on or just forget about it, but I don't believe words ever justify violence and I don't care what the words are.
What a process.
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Good luck and have fun.