What The Law Says
This text is taken directly from the Human Rights Act.
Article 10 of the Human Rights Act: Freedom of expression
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.
Example case – Observer and The Guardian v United Kingdom
The Guardian and The Observer newspapers published excerpts from Peter Wrights book Spycatcher, which included allegations that MI5 had acted unlawfully.
The government obtained a court order preventing the newspapers from printing further material until proceedings relating to a breach of confidence had finished.
The European Court of Human Rights said that the court order was lawful because it was in the interests of national security.
Protection Of Essential Rights
In 1776, George Mason drafted Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, the first bill of rights in an American state constitution. Mason became one of the most outspoken critics of the Constitution because it had no similar declaration of rights to protect the civil liberties of individual citizens. For Mason and others, true liberty wasn’t possible without these rights being specifically protected in the government’s founding document. The Federalist Papers, written by those in favor of ratifying the Constitution, ensured that freedom of speech and the press would be protected. However, without an explicit statement to that effect, Mason and other Anti-Federalists argued, Congress could make laws that limited freedom of speech.
Using This Right Example
This right is particularly important for journalists and other people working in the media.
They must be free to criticise the government and our public institutions without fear of prosecution this is a vital feature of a democratic society.
But that doesn’t prevent the state from imposing restrictions on the media in order to protect other human rights, such as a person’s right to respect for their private life.
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Can Free Speech Ever Be An Excuse For Racism And Other Forms Of Discrimination
In our open step about freedom of expression by Humanists UK, they discuss the difficulty in deciding what counts as offensive and what doesnt. They ask, if we ban all speech that anyone might consider offensive, how much conversation would be left? While it is true that offence is subjective, and depends hugely on your individual perspective, it could be argued that we have a duty to protect people against threats of harm and violence.
Even though a certain statement doesnt offend you, it might still be offensive. In an open step by the European University Institute, Pier Luigi Parcu talks about the issue of hate speech online, saying hate speech has become a common pattern of political propaganda, even in established democracies, targeting minorities, women, migrants, weaker elements of society, or simply the diversity of opinions. The phenomenon has been exacerbated by the relative anonymity that is allowed to the haters by the Internet.
Private Actors Private Property Private Companies
Despite the common misconception that the First Amendment prohibits anyone from limiting free speech, the text of the amendment only prohibits the US Congress from doing so. Starting with the 1925 U.S. Supreme Court decision Gitlow v. New York, this prohibition has been incorporated to apply to state and local governments as well, based on the text of the Fourteenth Amendment.
A major issue in freedom of speech jurisprudence has been whether the First Amendment should be interpreted to merely run against these state actors, or whether it can run against private actors as well. Specifically, the issue is whether private landowners should be permitted to use the machinery of government to exclude others from engaging in free speech on their property . The right of freedom of speech within private shopping centers owned by others has been vigorously litigated under both the federal and state Constitutions, most notably in the cases Lloyd Corp. v. Tanner and Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins .
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Freedom Of Speech: General
How has the Freedom of Speech been interpreted by the Supreme Court? Explore these landmark cases to better understand this important constitutional right.
Schenck v. United States
Freedom of speech can be limited during wartime. The government can restrict expressions that would create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.Read More.
Abrams v. United States
The First Amendment did not protect printing leaflets urging to resist the war effort, calling for a general strike, and advocating violent revolution. Read More.
Debs v. United States
The First Amendment did not protect an anti-war speech designed to obstruct recruiting. Read More.
Gitlow v. New York
The Supreme Court applied protection of free speech to the states through the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Read More.
Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire
The First Amendment did not protect fighting words which, by being said, cause injury or cause an immediate breach of the peace. Read More.
West Virginia v. Barnette
The West Virginia Boards policy requiring students and teachers to recite the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional. Reversing Minersville v. Gobitas , the Court held government cannot force citizens to confess by word or act their faith in matters of opinion. Read More.
United States v. OBrien
The First Amendment did not protect burning draft cards in protest of the Vietnam War as a form of symbolic speech. Read More.
What Are The Limits Of Freedom Of Speech
We already discussed some of the reasons why a government might restrict the right to freedom of expression, so we already know that it has some limitations. Our open step from the University of Bristol explores the slightly different limitations stated in South Africa, which restricts advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion.
However, it is also worth mentioning that freedom of speech and expression has limitations depending on the specific context youre in. For example, even though it is your human right to express yourself freely, doing so at work in a way that insults or negatively affects your boss or colleagues could impact your career. Essentially, its often inappropriate to speak freely if it infringes on someone elses freedoms.
In a similar vein, experts from the University of Oslo and the Scholars at Risk Network explore the challenges and curbs to academic free speech which can occur in academic environments, including those where human rights or legal violations may not be a factor. You can find out more about this in our Dangerous Questions: Why Academic Freedom Matters course.
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Ivmedia Regulation And Censorship
Armenia is no different from most of the world in providing constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and the press. In actual practice, however, there are a number of restraints on press freedom. When the U.S. State Department issued its assessment of human rights practices in Armenia for 2000, the report said the following:
Though the government respects the freedom of speech as a whole, yet there are some restrictions of press and the journalists practice self-censorship. There is no official censorship. The periodicals introduce different points of view. The opposition regularly criticizes the policy of the Government and the leaders as well as the President’s policy in such vital questions as peaceful regulation of Nagorno Karabakh problem and privatization.
USAID and IREX have collaborated to produce a Media Sustainability Index for Armenia and other countries. The index is composed of five scales. Each scale ranges from 0 to 4, with 0 being the least sustainable and 4 considered sustainable. When taken together, the five attributes used to evaluate the Armenian media fell in the unsustainable category. The attributes and the scores were as follows:
Independent media are well-managed businesses, allowing editorial independence .
Supporting institutions function in the professional interests of independent media .
L.A. Alexander, in, 2012
Democratic Ideals And Social Stability
Many philosophical theories promote freedom of speech as essential to enhance democratic government. During the Constitution’s drafting, the former colonists understood that if the government prohibited people from talking about certain things, it would just drive that speech underground. In this way, the First Amendment promotes transparency. People forced to talk in secret may resort to acting in violence to express their points of view, but allowing the open exchange of ideas allows them to vent peacefully. Additionally, free speech promotes a more representative and transparent government because voters have the ability to learn all sides of social and political issues.
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Sypniewski V Warren Hills Rsd
In 2001, CIR working together with New York law firm KMZRosenman filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Thomas Sypniewski, a high-achieving senior at a Washington, N.J., public high school, after he was suspended for wearing a Jeff Foxworthy t-shirt…
Case Status: Victory. Defendant Compton’s motion for Summary Judgment granted on August 31, 2000.
What Does Free Speech Mean
Among other cherished values, the First Amendment protects freedom of speech. The U.S. Supreme Court often has struggled to determine what exactly constitutes protected speech. The following are examples of speech, both direct and symbolic , that the Court has decided are either entitled to First Amendment protections, or not.
The First Amendment states, in relevant part, that:
Congress shall make no law…abridging freedom of speech.
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Freedom Of Speech Vs Hate Speech
One of the most widely discussed critiques of unlimited free speech is that it can condone and amplify hate speech. Hate speech can be defined as speech that is abusive and threatening towards a certain group of people, generally based on prejudices related to race, gender, sexuality, religion, or disability.
Some might ask, since people should be allowed to speak their minds and voice all opinions, why cant they simply express their dislike for certain things? This is an argument often uttered by those in favour of complete freedom of speech, including hate speech. However, people may disagree with this, arguing that a clearer line should be drawn between stating dislike and inciting violence. If nothing is off-limits, where does it end?
Is Cancel Culture A Form Of Censorship
A very common societal phenomenon right now is cancel culture. Placing limitations on free speech via social or digital ostracisation is not a direct attack like censorship by the government or social media platforms, but can be an effective way of deplatforming an individual, group or corporation.
Rather than actually stopping someone from expressing their views, cancel culture is a way for people to say that theyre not going to listen. Usually, cancel culture is a response to someone saying or doing something objectionable. It normally involves members of the public withdrawing their support from the cancelled person, but it can also involve trying to negatively impact the persons career prospects.
For the reasons weve already discussed, it can be damaging to cancel people, because this means we are refusing to engage with them and create critical discourse. However, this really depends on the reasons why someone is being cancelled.
The important thing to remember is that asking someone to be accountable for their actions is not regarded as the same as cancel culture. A widely acknowledged view is that criticism of cancel culture should not be an excuse for not taking responsibility for damaging actions, just as the right to free speech should not be an excuse for spreading hatred.
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Freedom Of Speech Includes The Right:
- Not to speak .West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 .
- Of students to wear black armbands to school to protest a war .Tinker v. Des Moines, 393 U.S. 503 .
- To use certain offensive words and phrases to convey political messages.Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 .
- To contribute money to political campaigns.Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 .
- To advertise commercial products and professional services .Virginia Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Consumer Council, 425 U.S. 748 Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 .
- To engage in symbolic speech, .Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 United States v. Eichman, 496 U.S. 310 .
Harmful And Offensive Content
Some views are illegal to express because they can cause harm to others. This category often includes speech that is both false and dangerous, such as falsely shouting “Fire!” in a theatre and causing a panic. Justifications for limitations to freedom of speech often reference the “harm principle” or the “offence principle”.
In On Liberty , John Stuart Mill argued that “…there ought to exist the fullest liberty of professing and discussing, as a matter of ethical conviction, any doctrine, however immoral it may be considered”. Mill argues that the fullest liberty of expression is required to push arguments to their logical limits, rather than the limits of social embarrassment.
Jasper Doomen argued that harm should be defined from the point of view of the individual citizen, not limiting harm to physical harm since nonphysical harm may also be involved Feinberg’s distinction between harm and offence is criticized as largely trivial.
In 1999, Bernard Harcourt wrote of the collapse of the harm principle: “Today the debate is characterized by a cacophony of competing harm arguments without any way to resolve them. There is no longer an argument within the structure of the debate to resolve the competing claims of harm. The original harm principle was never equipped to determine the relative importance of harms”.
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Free Speech In Schools
In 1965, students at a public high school in Des Moines, Iowa, organized a silent protest against the Vietnam War by wearing black armbands to protest the fighting. The students were suspended from school. The principal argued that the armbands were a distraction and could possibly lead to danger for the students.
The Supreme Court didnt bitethey ruled in favor of the students right to wear the armbands as a form of free speech in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District. The case set the standard for free speech in schools. However, First Amendment rights typically dont apply in private schools.
Freedom Of Speech Pros
Now, lets dissect freedom of speech pros and cons, beginning with pros.
First, freedom of speech allows citizens to openly dissent against the government without fear of persecution. The First Amendment prohibits the US government from censoring opposition. Citizens are free to publicly share dissenting viewpoints and peaceably gather in protest. In contrast, authoritarian governments including absolute monarchies and communist states can limit, ban, and punish dissent.
Additionally, freedom of speech helps elicit social change. Abolitionism, womens suffrage, civil and LGBTQ rights, and other historical US social movements benefit from the ability to spread new ideas and gather in mass to demand change.
Freedom of speech and the press also help protect everyday citizens from the countrys elite. Private citizens, activists, and journalists use their voice to expose harmful activity by government officials, religious leaders, and corporate executives.
Another defined freedom of speech benefit is that not all speech is protected speech. In the US, speech that incites imminent and likely law violations presents a clear and present danger, and distributing obscene materials is prohibited.
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Freedom Of Speech Cons
Freedom of speech presents societal disadvantages as well.
First, freedom of speech can protect speech that others, including the majority, find offensive. For example, in 2017, the US Supreme Court unanimously reaffirmed that the US government may not restrict hate speech. Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express the thought that we hate, Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the opinion.
Opponents also argue that free speech protections can stifle unity among the people. Chinas central government, for example, wields strong control over information shared through traditional and online news media and social media forums. This type of control makes it difficult for dissenting viewpoints to spread, fragment society, and spur organized social movements.
Lastly, freedom of speech makes it easier for false information to spread. In the US, slander, libel, and defamation are unlawful, but the First Amendment does not always account for false statements. Free speech protections can more widely disseminate false information, causing confusion and conflict especially during a crisis.
Does Freedom Of Speech Apply To Digital Platforms
A lot of the time, we hear about controversial opinions and statements that people have made via the internet. This is why its important to evaluate the role of digital platforms and social media in the debate on freedom of speech.
In our open step on freedom of speech and the internet, experts from the University of Bristol discuss how the internet has been blamed by some for enabling terrorism and extremism. This is because they are accused of providing a platform for people to promote their damaging views, and even plan attacks.
In this way, digital platforms very much have a part to play in the free speech debate, as ultimately they must try to ensure that dangerous activity is not taking place on their platforms. However, as Pier Luigi Parcu explains in our open step on fake news, digital platforms dont like to assume editorial responsibility for the dangerous content that exists on their sites.
There are rare exceptions to this, such as when Twitter banned Donald Trump recently, but a bill was approved soon after that now prevents social media companies from deplatforming politicians this way.
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