The Incompatibility Between Free Speech and Cultural Fraternity
I believe in actual Freedom of Expression and while I recognize that we repeatedly fall short of the goal (because it is a difficult one to enact) I lament that people don't see it as valuable, or in your case possible.
As for examples of achieving what I want, I have none. Is that a problem?
I used to be a free-speech absolutist. My commitments to that ideal died very hard.
Never trust an ideological construct that can't be demonstrated at scale. The problem here, I think, is the same problem with Socialism and Communism and Libertarianism; if something seems like a super good idea but no one can ever seem to get it to actually work, there's probably a problem lurking somewhere deep in the weeds of actual implementation.
Here, I think the problem is that coherent values are necessary to a functional society, and the freer expression gets, the more a population's values lose coherence. At some level, conformity and some level of epistemic hygiene are necessary for a society to function. If we can't agree on basic concepts like justice, fairness, status, and what constitutes the good life, we can't meaningfully cooperate, and must compete. Competition spirals into conflict, and things get very very bad for everyone.
The rigorous distinction between speech and action you seek is not easy to establish, but asymptotic approach is better than discarding the whole concept.
I disagree. It seems to me that the approach doesn't get particularly asymptotic, but rather free-rides off the very values-coherence it actively undermines, and once that values-coherence is gone devolves very rapidly into special pleading and "who, whom". Look at the shift in American culture, internet culture, institutional culture at places like the ACLU.
Speech is transmitting data, action is changing state.
Data transmission is itself a state change. As social animals, humans are quite sensitive to things like love, respect, status and dignity. Struggle sessions are effective using words alone. Hostility, gossip and shunning are effective social tools. Emotional abuse is a thing. You can talk people into killing themselves.
It seems incontrovertible to me that feels are in fact reals. People routinely kill each other or themselves over hurt feelings. Pride, ambition, and ideology start actual wars. Maybe it would be better if it were not this way, but it is this way, and this state of affairs seems unlikely to change.
Speech is telling somebody something, action is touching them or their possessions.
As mentioned above, evidence strongly suggests that the overwhelming majority of people consider things like their status and dignity to be part of them, and feelings are among their most valued possessions. But beyond that, the problem is that all action is chosen, and speech strongly influences choice.
"This person is a [Bad Thing], and if you hire them, you're supporting [Badism]" is straightforwardly speech. That doesn't make it any less destructive to the person or group of people it's labelling as unemployable, and saying "no, please, don't," doesn't make self-reinforcing ideologically-organized meanness any less attractive to dominant tribes. Hiring decisions, purchasing decisions, and economic activity generally are all essentially "speech", but directly and immediately impact other peoples' wellbeing. It doesn't actually make much difference if my business gets shut down by the government vs. because a screaming or even whispering mob drives all my customers away.
The fact is, Society is a compromise. People consent to compromises when they believe the benefits are worth the costs. It is possible, using speech, to shape opinion and thus social consensus, to convince large portions of the population that the compromises necessary to maintain society aren't worth making. It is entirely possible to use speech to incite tribal groups into murderous warfare with each other, and when this happens it is pointless to claim the incitement was fine and only the actual violence was the problem.
Speech is putting a message somewhere so others have the options of either taking in that message or ignoring it, action is making a change to someone without giving them an option.
Choices effect other people. Choices are shaped by ideas. Ideas are molded by speech. Speech effects other people.
The most basic rule of politics is "Don't be ruled by people who hate you". Speech can convince people to hate you. If it does, the consequences can be so bad that preventing the problem is to be strongly preferred over mitigating the consequences.
Speech, other than the direct sensory stimulus of light reflected from a billboard or sound from a speaker, can be either accepted or ignored at no cost to any observers.
Speech is valuable because it tends to lead to action. Speech can be threatening and coercive, and it can be used to coordinate threatening and coercive actions. All of these are both incredibly serious concerns and totally open to interpretation, which leads us back to the necessity of having coherent values.
Surely, something in this direction is easy enough to understand the intent even if ironing out an exact physical or legal description is hard.
"Intent" is a values judgement, and differing values-systems find themselves unable to agree on what the proper judgement should be. There are no rules or systems below the values level. That's all we've got.
If your society has coherent, cooperative values, you can hash out a workable solution to the general problem. If it has incoherent, competitive values, it probably can't. I think the evidence is pretty clear that our society is in the later category, and that previous commitments to the idea of free speech had a great deal to do with how we got here.
If you create the tools to suppress an idea, if you normalize the concept that some ideas are bad and should be suppressed, then you have fulfilled all the preconditions for suppressing good ideas and true ideas except for the interest in doing so. Do you really want to put somebody, anybody, in charge of a weapon that powerful? Is there any person or organization so pure of heart that it would only ever suppress "the actually bad things" and willing/able to maintain that purity forevermore?
Firstly, every society in history seems to have normalized the idea that some ideas are bad and should be suppressed. We don't have to theorize about the results, we can directly observe them.
Secondly, if I thought refraining from suppressing bad ideas would somehow protect good ideas, I'd be all for it. Unfortunately, this doesn't seem to actually work in practice. Suppression of good ideas is something the "bad guys" can simply do, regardless of whether the "good guys" suppress bad ideas or let them flourish. I see no evidence that restraint by one faction in any way determines or encourages restraint by another faction possessed of incompatible values. This is what power means: the ability to have things your way.
If allowing bad ideas under your regime does nothing to protect good ideas under an enemy regime, then the question devolves down to whether suppressing bad ideas causes more harm that the ideas themselves do. Maybe it does, but I'm skeptical of the claim. It appears most other people are as well given the way they act.
There is no short term benefit of suppressing Very Bad Idea X worth the long term cost of erecting or strengthening barriers to and weapons against free exchange if you cannot guarantee "the good guys" will remain in control of those barriers and weapons, and you can't possibly do that.
Again, there's no evidence I can see that suppressing bad ideas endangers good ones, or that allowing bad ideas protects good ones. Free speech is essentially dead in our own society, and active suppression of ideas is the norm. Progressives don't seem to feel that this suppression has cost them anything noticeable, and previous widespread commitments to free expression did little to nothing to hinder the new regime. It would be very convinient if things worked the way you claim, but I see no evidence that they do.
Meanwhile, suppression promises to deliver significant results.