Freedom of speech is the essential civil right, second only to freedom of thought, which when lost describes total oppression.
Without free speech you cannot:
- Say what is true.
- Say what others are thinking and do not realize they are not alone in that.
- Say what true and so expose lies and fabrications, thereby rejecting falsehoods and those who publish them.
- Expand the debate beyond what the majority say.
- Offer alternatives to the accepted and protected norm.
- Choose, for yourself, your direction and intentions.
- Ask others to join with you and oppose.
Speech is critical.
And next, after that, nearly (pr perhaps) equal, is self-defense, which is necessary to your right to life. First, to claim your right to live, then to reject in speech (ideas for you who struggle with some plain talk) those who would deny you life, and then to defend that life.
From there, to be left alone to do as you wish, insofar as you deny no one else that, is the beginning of liberty. To defend others ensures their rights and collaterally yours, preventing oppressors from merely outnumbering you.
Speech. Without this freedom, you would not be able to present your demands for this and the others. You would know it, in your heart, you would just not be able to exercise it and others, and defend any.
And balancing rights against each other is a lie. Balancing your exercise of rights is necessary, sometimes, in current civilized society, but such accommodations are properly limited and focused.