You get a pretty good idea of the health of a society by its government’s attitude towards speech. From Andrew P. Napolitano at lewrockwell.com:
“I disagree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it.” — Voltaire (1694-1778)
When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, he included in it a list of the colonists’ grievances with the British government. Notably absent were any complaints that the British government infringed upon the freedom of speech.
In those days, speech was as acerbic as it is today. If words were aimed at Parliament, all words were lawful. If they were aimed directly and personally at the king — as Jefferson’s were in the Declaration — they constituted treason.
Needless to say, Jefferson and the 55 others who signed the Declaration would all have been hanged for treasonous speech had the British prevailed.
Of course, the colonists won the war, and, six years afterward, the 13 states ratified the Constitution. Two years after ratification, the Constitution was amended by adding the Bill of Rights. The first ratified amendment prohibited Congress from doing what the colonists never seriously complained about the British government doing — infringing upon the freedom of speech.