Some people’s idea of [free speech] is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone says anything back, that is an outrage. —WINSTON CHURCHILL, speech, Oct. 13, 1943
“If men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences that can invite the consideration of mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of speech may be taken away, and dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter.” — George Washington, first U.S. president
There is much said about free speech in Western countries but what is free speech and what does it mean to us? Is it the freedom to say what you like when you like even if it offends you? Churchill argued that free speech is when someone says something to contradict what you are saying and that this is OK because it is the basis of our society (Western).
Yet in the UK it seems that the government, or ruling elites, have a different view. They view free speech as only applying to views that are the same as their views. Views that are not `mainstream’, or views that would upset a certain group or even an individual are not covered under free speech. In the United States, they have a Constitution and a Bill of Rights
America’s `First Amendment’ gives Americans very specific protection on the freedom of speech that UK residents don’t seem to have at the moment and this is a fundamental weakness of the British system.
An example of the modern view of freedom of speech can be found in the rightsinfo.org/ piece on freedom of speech by Natasha Holcroft-Emmes: What Is Free Speech & Does It Mean You Can Say Whatever You Want?
Although this article does not go into specific cases on what is not allowed under freedom of speech it does mention categories of things that are prohibited under `the law’ (it lists specific cases elsewhere on their site). The article does mention hate crimes or hate speech and the main question that this raises is what is hate speech? Is criticising a religion a hate crime? For example, is criticising the teaching of Muhammad a hate crime because it offends Muslims? It seems that many in the UK believe that it does and we are seeing moves to ban what is termed Islamophobia (whatever this term means).
One Law for All put it well in their statement: The right to offend is fundamental to free expression when they argue:
This is the historical position in the UK and should remain so, not only in the UK but in all Western societies.
In recent weeks I have been especially conscious of the issue of free speech in the UK as it relates to the criticism of Islam or even the discussion of Islam. What constantly comes up is the term Islamophobia. A word bandied about on a regular basis in our media and society at large. If you are an islamophobe you are in deep trouble in the UK!read more
The imprisonment of anyone for holding or expressing views that can be offensive to others should be a cause for concern in any `free’ country. This case has caused international debate on the position of free speech and thought in the UK.read more
It does not matter whether you know Tommy Robertson, like him or dislike him his arrest and imprisonment goes to the very roots of freedom of speech in the UK. Freedom of Speech is the right to offend and if we start to imprison people because they offend us are we any better than the many dictatorships in the world?read more
Here Peter Hutchens explores the issues of free speech and that the basis of free speech is the right to offend. Free speech is not just speech that people agree with but all types of speech even when it offends.read more