Is Freedom of Speech an Absolute or Relative Right?

A Constitutional Right?

I remember when it was a popular justification to claim, "I'll say what I like. It's a free country". This has rather fallen out of fashion, to be replaced, in UK, with "I'm entitled to state my opinion", and in US, with "I'm only exercising my (Constitutional) right to free speech". An interesting word, 'right'. We'll come back to that later.

Americans are fond of appealing to the Constitution. In Britain we don't do this because there's no written constitution, no single document or point of reference. The British Constitution is usually defined to be 'The Rule of Law and the Sovereignty of Parliament'. Law, of course, tends to be proscriptive (don't do x,y,z). You'll never find a prescriptive law that reads 'say whatever you like'. In practice, in UK, only a court of law can decide if someone has acted illegally in, for example, inciting racial hatred.

Where I'm living now, in Doha, nobody claims any such right or entitlement to free speech. Here, as in much of the world, you can think what you like but some opinions, voiced in the wrong place, could result in detention or deportment. Similarly, the Internet here is heavily censored and even personal blogs can be blocked. Qatar is not Saudi; but it's not the West either.

Personally, Qatar's restriction on free speech doesn't particularly bother me. Why not? Because I'm here to work, not to reform the country, and experiencing how different cultures organise themselves is one of the main reasons for my travelling lifestyle. Hubbing and blogging as Paraglider gives me a little anonymity, but would afford me no real protection if I were prone to writing hubs like, for example, Sir Dent's The Birth of Palestine. Sir Dent (I'm sure he won't mind me saying this) if he lived in the Middle East, couldn't expect to remain there for long while producing pro-Israeli literature. And this brings me to the main point of all this preamble: is absolute freedom of speech invariably a good thing? Let's have a quick straw poll.  

Should Freedom of Speech be an Absolute Right?

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What about the law?

Something many people don't realise is that you are allowed to break the law. It's illegal, but that's merely by definition. You are allowed to break the law but then the officers of the law are allowed, duty bound in fact, to apprehend you and turn you over to the courts.. This partly explains why proscriptive law works. If the law says 'don't do x' and you are seen doing it, it's a clear case of law-breaking. But prescriptive law isn't so easy. If you're seen not doing something, your immediate defence is "I was just about to do it".

When it comes to free speech, the UK position is that you're allowed to say anything in general unless, specifically, you're not. For example, specifically, you are not allowed to incite racial hatred, under the terms of the Race Relations Act.

In the US, it's more complicated, because of the Constitution. There, you're allowed to say anything in general unless, specifically, you're not, but then you can appeal to your Constituitional 'right'. The waters get muddy here.

Rt. Hon. Enoch Powell, MP

Enoch Powell - rights must be defended
Enoch Powell - rights must be defended

What are rights?

When I was about 20 and a student, there was a politician we loved to hate. His name was Enoch Powell, one of the champions of the Conservative right wing. Though I didn't care for his politics, and still don't, I always had a sneaking admiration for the man. He had a formidable intellect and was one of the best debaters in the House. I read his autobiography and was impressed with what he had to say about constitutional rights. His position was - if something is a right, then the State must defend it, by force if necessary. Thus, the right to shelter: the State is obliged to house the homeless (if they demand shelter). Or, the State is obliged to provide fresh drinking water.Basic provisional rights such as these are not problematical. But rights to act or speak are less straightforward. Logically, if I have the right of free speech, even if I speak offensively, the State must provide police protection to allow me to continue to offend. Taken to the limits, the state must protect me even when I speak against the State.Powell's view was that the State should be extremely cautious in extending rights that could end up in conflict with the law. This appears now to be the case in the US. 

Free Speech and Political Correctness

Political Correctness was not around in Powell's day, at least not by any such name. There was also very little, if any, legislation along the lines of 'don't be offensive'. Recently. however, this is where the battle lines are drawn. Someone says or writes something that is offensive to a religious or cultural group. Members of the group complain. The writer bemoans political correctness and appeals to the right of free speech. The oft-repeated cycle is not edifying..

Maybe it would be better if there were less protective legislation, but also no 'right' of free speech either. That is, if the whole field of communication were removed from the legal domain (except inciting criminality). In UK, where there is no 'right' of free speech, people speak freely without it. It's simply unnecessary. Such deregulation would make individuals responsible for any reactions to their words, as they would no longer be able to hide behind a right.

I don't expect this to be a popular remark, but in some respects I think that the US Constitution, which was a great force for progress for a very long time, is now becoming a ball and chain, as it is too firmly tied to a time and an intellectual landscape that have passed away.

Now, just out of interest, let's round off by reconducting exactly the same poll. 

Should freedom of speech be an absolute right?

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Comments, newest on top 168 comments

ladyguitarpicker profile image

ladyguitarpicker 10 months ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

Hi Paraglider, I believe in the free speech, it is a right all should have. Great article. Oh, I don't think any President should be used and disrespected. We were always taught in the good old days to respect people.


bradmasterOCcal profile image

bradmasterOCcal 14 months ago from Orange County California

The limits on free speech, such as you can't yell fire in a crowded room, if there wasn't a fire. we fine to make. But today with PC, which artificially projected itself into the fire category, and civil rights going so far as to discriminate against the white heterosexual male.

Government has never been successful in controlling social behavior.

Alcohol, smoking, and illegal drugs are still going strong.

The US has immigration laws, but that doesn't stop illegal aliens who also get defacto benefits of citizenship.


Chris Hearn profile image

Chris Hearn 19 months ago from Winnipeg, MB, Canada

I used to live in Qatar and the curtailments on free speech bugged the heck out of me. It made me realize that I didn't want to live in a country with such restrictions.


Sanxuary 2 years ago

There is no such thing as free speech. We can speak freely but there are always penalties. You can list the people on television who are gone and a corporation would send you packing in a heart beat if you said something they did not like. Legally they should not be able to touch you if you are not on the clock but good luck. Even if it is free we all know that what you say always carries a penalty and it will determine who your friends are.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 3 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Torrilynn - thanks for commenting. The differences between how we see rights on the two sides of the Atlantic are quite subtle, with neither side having all the answers.


torrilynn profile image

torrilynn 3 years ago

@Paraglider thanks for this article. it was very thorough on the differences of the laws and rules in the United States and in Britain. I overall feel that freedom of speech should be a right to a certain extent. meaning that people should be able to say what they want to say as long as its not offensive in being racist, or sexist or any of that sort. some might say if its freedom of speech and there are discrepancies then its not really freedom of speech that is true but they also say that the United States is the land of the free and the home of the brave and yet we are not free. Voted up and shared !


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 4 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Coolbreezing - that's a very perceptive comment. I agree with every point. Some prominent media people are all too aware of their power to influence and quite cynically abuse this power. Fortunately many people see through them. Thanks for the visit :)


Coolbreezing profile image

Coolbreezing 4 years ago from New York, New York

Hi! Paraglider - long time

Freedom of speech in the United States is influenced by the economy. The more small businesses there are, the higher the middle class and thus the more elastic is freedom of speech. Whereas, the more monopolistic the economy becomes the less small business we'll have and thus the less middle class people which would result in less freedom of speech. Therefore, freedom of speech is directly related to economic instability.

However, I would also add that freedom of speech has its limit, it all depend on the subject matter, internal security, government information that dealt with the security of the country could be kept to a distance, privately but not to be discussed over the internet.

I would also say that people who can draw lots of influence can try to be very careful at what they say for the simple fact that they can influence people to react carelessly, they can cause riot. But that is if they indeed know about their ability to influence others, because we certainly can't hold people responsible for what they know nothing about.

I would also add that freedom of speech is more tension reactant during the election process, after the election season it gets back to normal, especially this election year in the United States. Never before have had we had one like it, I for one would admit to you that I'm not as outspoken as I was four years ago during the last election. This time its different, this election is corporate sponsored, and a lots of money has been invested in campaign ads.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 4 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

You are not agreeing, because I don't see any evidence for any God. Proscriptive law is ok, because it implies that everything is allowed, generally, unless, specifically, it is disallowed. God has nothing to do with this!


wba108@yahoo.com profile image

wba108@yahoo.com 4 years ago from upstate, NY

I agree that freedom is a God given right to all people, Christians or non-Christians. Those who are true to The US Constitution will often admit that it establishes proscriptive law which I believe are the same as negative rights. A negative right says what the government can't do, not what your entitled to. Positive rights, ie the right to healthcare, social programs ect are not in the Constitution. Those are rights given by the government that can be removed by the government.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 4 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

wba108 - and yet, freedom is every bit as important a concept for non believers and believers alike, surely?


wba108@yahoo.com profile image

wba108@yahoo.com 4 years ago from upstate, NY

I'm a real fan of the US Constitution but still am a rookie about pondering the implications of what's written in it. Much of the Constitution, I feel is based in the scriptures along with the inalienable or God-given rights.

To me, freedom in all forms is a God given right because its rooted in the scriptures. God says He desires to be "worshipped in spirit and truth", to worship from the heart there must be no coersion because we must choose to worship.

The scriptures say "you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free". So there you have it, God wants us to be free.


jainismus profile image

jainismus 4 years ago from Pune, India

Freedom of speech was never and will be never an absolute right. Is abusing the freedom of speech?


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 4 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Sandra, I think you slightly overstate your case when you include 'thinking'. There are certainly those who would unreasonably control speech (and writing), but only a deluded megalomaniac would believe it possible to control people's thoughts. Of course, controlling information on the media goes a long way in this direction, and that's certainly well established. Thanks for the read and comment.


Sandra 4 years ago

Freedom of speech is an absolute right. There are judges and police in America who are true criminals who have taken that right away from some innocent Americans. However it is only fair to warn other Americans that this is no longer America. There is no longer free speech in America. Know that you could land in jail for not thinking or saying what the politically powerful in America want you to think or say. They may abuse you and threaten you. Unfortunately America is not a free country. Just know this for your own good and let your children know this too.


Richard 5 years ago

Bess Price (renowned Central Australian Aboriginal leader) ostensibly alluded to the same indigenous academics on Q&A, questioning the legitimacy of 'white blackfellas' - a few weeks after Andrew Bolt's remarks - and that was considered perfectly acceptable and politically correct. See http://bit.ly/hE4nH8. If hard questions were directed at, say, right-wing Muslims, an incensed 'Australian' cleric can call for a fatwa - the death of that person - on Australian soil, whilst same cleric happily lives on Australian soil. Seemingly without exception, the cleric is not charged with intent to commit murder, however, the person who made the comment is accused of racial vilification and pilloried. As is increasingly the case in PC Australia, it again appears that freedom of speech is an absolute right ... depending on who you are.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Larry - my conclusion is really in the penultimate paragraph: de facto freedoms are better not to be defined as rights. My final throwaway about the US constitution is of less importance, because freedoms of thought and expression, exercised with responsibility, are bigger than any attempt to pin them down or enshrine them in law. I don't see much disagreement between us or, for that matter, H no H's position.

Thanks for finding this old one!


maven101 profile image

maven101 5 years ago from Northern Arizona

@Humble...You bring up a very good point, one that is gaining more scrutiny than it deserves...Why must we always complicate the uncomplicated...? Common sense, integrity, honor, outrage, all have been devoured by that bane to human society, political correctness and its evil twin, diversity...

Its interesting in that I can disagree with paragliders conclusions but agree with his postulates...Example: His defining of pro and prescriptive law is accurate as stated...but to draw the conclusion that the Constitution somehow is lagging behind present day sensitivities would be to let those very twin evils circumvent human interaction...

Lets look at the slippery slope analogy... Those who support the slippery slope argument warn that the consequence of limiting speech is the inevitable slide into censorship and tyranny. Such arguments assume that we can be on or off the slope. In fact, no such choice exists: we are necessarily on the slope whether we like it or not, and the task is always to decide how far up or down we choose to go, not whether we should step off the slope altogether. It is worth noting that the slippery slope argument can be used to make the opposite point; one could argue with equal force that we should never allow any removal of government intervention because once we do we are on the slippery slope to anarchy, a life that Hobbes described as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”

We are in fact free to speak as we like. If the government wants to prevent citizens engaging in certain actions, smoking cigarettes for example, it can limit their freedom to do so by making sure that cigarettes are no longer available. Freedom of speech is a different case. A government cannot make it impossible to say certain things. The only thing it can do is punish people after they have said, written or published their thoughts. This means that we are free to speak or write in a way that we are not free to smoke cigarettes. This is an important point; if we insist that legal prohibitions remove freedom then we have to hold the incoherent position that a person was unfree at the very moment she performed an action. The government would have to remove our vocal chords for us to be unfree in the same way as the smoker is unfree.

One final question occurs: Who defines the hold harm clause..? legislative process, judicial fiat, or public opinion..? slippery slopes indeed...Larry


HUmBle, no HUBris profile image

HUmBle, no HUBris 5 years ago

Thanks, maven101, for so aptly explaining the thoughts that I've been trying to express: "The unmentioned fact that most intelligent and enlightened peoples should acknowledge is that freedom only works when responsibility is a prerequisite to its success..."

I was attempting to draw a parallel between A's manipulation of M to murder B with signs like "Pray For More Military Deaths" and "Death To Gays" so proudly displayed by the protesters from the church! If some fanatic uses these signs as a "noble" motivation to go on a killing spree, then will the protesters be held responsible for instigating the violence?


maven101 profile image

maven101 5 years ago from Northern Arizona

The US Constitution is hardly " becoming a ball and chain, as it is too firmly tied to a time and an intellectual landscape that have passed away "...

On December 10, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which among others, stated in Article 19 the following:

" Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

This was proclaimed in 1948, not 1787...times, cultures, and nations may change, but human freedoms do not...Nowhere in the Constitution does it state that freedom of speech is a " right "...Rather, simply that it is a freedom. The unmentioned fact that most intelligent and enlightened peoples should acknowledge is that freedom only works when responsibility is a prerequisite to its success...

With apology to Voltaire, I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to be wrong...Larry


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

That's why we have trial by jury, to decide in such cases whether or not a crime was committed. Defendants as a general rule plead innocent but they are not always believed.


HUmBle, no HUBris profile image

HUmBle, no HUBris 5 years ago

See, that's my whole point! If A claims that he had no intentions of doing any harm to B despite his intense dislike for B, and also that he had never even mentioned the idea of murdering B to M, then can the law hold him responsible? A might say that he had simply confided to his friend (M) how gross a human being B was and how he tormented everybody around him....by doing so, he was simply exercising his right to freedom of speech! How the heck was he supposed to know that M would take it upon himself to rid the world of B?! What I'm trying to say is that A, realising how gullible & disturbed M was, did something cruel & manipulative to get B out of the way! However, technically speaking, wasn't he only indulging in free speech? He hadn't actually done anything illegal!


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Yes, but incitement to commit a criminal act can still be construed in court as a crime in itself. Free speech can be cited in defence, but in cases of incitement, it is not an adequate defence.


HUmBle, no HUBris profile image

HUmBle, no HUBris 5 years ago

Extremely slippery slope indeed! If A hates B and desires his demise, he'll be in serious trouble if he acts upon his feelings! However, what if he finds gullible M, who hero-worships A, and convinces him that B is the scum of the earth & the world would be a much better place without him? What if this, in turn, inspires M to murder B in a supposedly noble attempt to "save the world"....is A culpable in this case? Sure, M will be considered a murderer, but A can insist that he never asked M to murder B....he had simply expressed his heart-felt dislike for B! He was simply exercising his right to free speech....Right??!!Hmmmm...."Dial M For Murder Part II"!


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi ElderYoungMan - The problems come when people expect state protection when indulging in behaviour that is anathema to most of the state. Of course there is no one solution that suits every culture, but I think the right to free speech is better assumed than enshrined.


ElderYoungMan profile image

ElderYoungMan 5 years ago from Worldwide

Trains of thought on this subject really define where we are morally in America right now. The difference between and adult and a child is that the adult should know more about what they should do instead of what they can do. A child does silliness, like trying to ride and oversized 10-speed bike, down a steep hill, with no hands....while and adult understands that a 10 speed bike has hand activated breaks! We should be mature enough not to have to have free speech defined to us by law, but we aren't. It's the American "New" normal, to do things that we can get away with, not things that we should actually do.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

That's all good. I wonder where we'll be in 500 years when the Constitution is as old as the Magna Carta is today? Maybe if something can't be retained or amended indefinitely, a decision has to be taken to let it go? Time will tell :)


shynsly profile image

shynsly 5 years ago from Sierra Vista, AZ

Ironically, I think we agree with each other more then either of us realizes. The last paragraph of your reply sounds alot like my "internet conundrum" hub.

And I do agree with you that I prefer the idea of "rights" being assumed to exist if they're not explicitly banned by the written law of the land.

Perhaps it is different on your side of "the Pond", I must confess, for all the places around the world I've been, the UK isn't one of them, though I'd like to someday.

But I am above and beyond all else in favor of personal freedom and liberty. And I feel as though our legislaters have forgotten their place. They've been slowly chipping away at American's "rights" and "freedoms" for decades now and our constitution seems to be about the only semblance of a "firewall" to save us from outright tyranny.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi shynsly - The right to free speech and the right to bear arms are not the same thing. As a matter of fact, gun ownership is legal in UK, provided you comply with the various gun control regulations, which are certainly stricter that in (parts of) US.

One size doesn't fit all, and the two societies are very different. In UK, we have free speech except in those specific areas (e.g. criminal incitement) where it is outlawed, and that seems to work pretty well.

The bigger problem occurs when people are so conditioned by what they are fed in the media that, with or without free speech, they have nothing original to say. I'd suggest that the US has gone farther down that road than most of Europe in the last few decades.


shynsly profile image

shynsly 5 years ago from Sierra Vista, AZ

I have to admit, I disagree with a lot of what you say, though I respect your "right" to say it. My biggest issue is as you forsaw:

"I don't expect this to be a popular remark, but in some respects I think that the US Constitution, which was a great force for progress for a very long time, is now becoming a ball and chain, as it is too firmly tied to a time and an intellectual landscape that have passed away."

By who's standards? Yours? The rest of the world's? I could be wrong, but so far as I can tell, the vast majority of U.S. citizens still very much believe in our constitution... despite what CNN would have us believe. And don't take this personally, but I for one really don't give a damn what the rest of the world thinks of us or our Constitution. Last time I checked, the progressives had not completely gotten their way and we still maintained some form of sovereignty.

Personally, I like the idea that we are truly guaranteed the "right" to freedom of speech (by law). If you need a reason, next time you find yourself in the UK, go try to legally purchase a Ruger or a Glock. There was a time you would have been able to do so, despite not having an explicit "right". Even if you yourself are not a fan of firearms, I'm sure there are others in your country who were.

Here in the U.S., despite the left's continued assault on the freedom to legally and responsibly own firearms, thanks to our "outdated" constitution, it is still very much possible to do exactly that.

If it were not for our second amendment, does anyone truly believe we wouldn't have gone the same route as Britain and Australia a long time ago?

Without something formally "on the books", how long before the government decides you have something to say that they don't like? In the absence of a law protecting freedom of speech, how long before laws are passed denying it?

Even WITH our laws, they're still doing everything possible to stifle free speech. If you don't believe me, ask Julian Assange.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Wayne - thanks for that. I think the whole conflict between right and responsibility arises from the unnecessary statement of the right in the first place. I prefer a system where if something is not proscribed by law, it is a de facto right.


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas

From the American perspective of The Constitution, it certainly appears that we hold our right as an "absolute". For some, that might seem problematic but one has to look at the broader picture and understand that we also recognize "The Rule of Law". So on the one hand we have rights but on the other you cannot exercise those rights to break the law without suffering the consequences. Rights come with responsibilities. We have the right to say something yet we bear the responsibility for what is said. If what is said does nothing more than foster an environment of hatred which incites rioting, then our responsibility may dictate that we need to be more careful with our choice of words unless our intention is to create that environment. There is also another perspective on freedom of speech and that deals with credibility. One can get away with saying anything they want in many cases but sooner or later their words must pass the litmus test with those who hear them. Once their opinions are no longer deemed credible, their right to free speech has depreciated greatly both in term of their listeners and its impact. Thanks for a good hub that stimulates the mind a bit! WB


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Shinkicker - I agree with your consensus point. But as well as its PC element it also bolsters extreme positions where enough like minded people get together to reinforce each other's prejudices, all in the name of free speech. It's a tricky one.


Shinkicker profile image

Shinkicker 6 years ago from Scotland

Great Hub Paraglider

Enjoyed reading that

We all have free speech and can say whatever we like irrespective of laws or sanctions. As you say we are 'allowed' to break the law but have to accept the consequences.

But I think the most powerful block to free speech is consensus rather than laws.

There is always an informal agreement in society of what is suitable and appropriate and what is not. Obviously this changes over time and we have a much more PC culture nowadays.

But at the end of the day I think it's the dissemination of speech rather than the speech itself that matters.

Censorship and manipulation of the media is the biggest threat to free speech and exchange of ideas today.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Thanks askpowers - a lot of people these days would rather assume than work!


askpowers 6 years ago

Its really an elaborative hub. I like it.

People should work to get aware of Freedom of Speech...


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Garima - the mistake is to focus on a single issue. Freedoms and responsibilities go together, as do consequences. It's not worth debating with anyone who doesn't see that.


Garima 6 years ago

I know that freedom of speech should have some restrictions...so that there is no exploitation of the right, but i chose to speak in favor of it...(debate)...and i don't have any idea what to do, because the person against it will be having stronger points..any suggestion...?what should i do now?


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

George - with the Atlantic between us, which one of us is 'the overseas mind'? But joking apart, thanks for visiting :)


George J Hardy profile image

George J Hardy 6 years ago from Southern New Jersey

Freedom of speech comes with responsibilities, tact, however comes from manners,upbringing and education, but mostly discretion. I often wondered were the overseas mind was concerning the issue; thanks for your viewpoint.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

T_Augustus - people that scream are usually best avoided altogether! Thanks for the read.


T_Augustus profile image

T_Augustus 7 years ago from Detroit, MI

Definitely relative! Many people that scream "protect my freedom of speech", only accepts comments from those that agree with them.

http://hubpages.com/community/lousyAmerican


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

No problem. I just had to mention it in fairness to Powell's memory, even though I didn't like his politics! Your comment was still valuable.


A M Werner profile image

A M Werner 7 years ago from West Allis

Paraglider, I'm sorry if it appeared that I misquoted. I just meant to point out that what the state defends is always changing, so what it defended one day could change the next. I agree, and believe it is actually impossible for a state to defend free speech. The very idea allows for defending everything. Somethings just have to stand on their own and be believed.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

A M Werner - thanks for the detailed commentary. You have actually misquoted me. What I said (and I was representing Enoch Powell's position) was 'If something is A right the state must defend it'. The indefinite article that you omitted completely changes the meaning of the sentence. The true meaning is that if the state grants a right, it must defend it. But if the state does not single out free speech as a right, then the individual can not demand state protection and must take responsibility for what s/he says. I favour this approach.

As for the rest of your commentary, I agree entirely that personal freedom entails freedom to think and speak as one wishes. And I arrive at that conclusion without any appeal to a creator, since I do not share your belief in one. There is more than one way to skin a cat!


A M Werner profile image

A M Werner 7 years ago from West Allis

This was an interesting hub and you received some interesting responses. Religiously, I believe in freedom of speech. In saying that, as we teach in our Home Assembly, it is best to remember that the truth is offensive.

You wrote 'if something is right the state must defend it.' Of course, as we can see looking back in history, what the state deems to be right changes all the time. What was "right" in the 50's in America was much different from what is "right" today.

As human beings we have to understand that we were given the right by our Creator to express our beliefs. Government, all government, is in opposition to this, even the one here in America.

You wrote, 'Such deregulation would make individuals responsible for any reactions to their words.' Again, as human beings with the right to express our beliefs, we have to understand that with or without consitutional support, with or without state protection, we will express ourselves and be heard.

If and when we can do that, we understand what true freedom is. To believe enough in something to risk everything for, shows deep faith and love of truth.

Offending others knows no end. There will always be someone somewhere who will take offense. If our goal is not to offend, there our goal should be to keep silent and obey. I don't believe our Creator put us here on earth to do that. The poorest, humblest person in this whole world was given the same ability to think and speak as the richest and proudest. When that poor man understands the power he has, he will be free. And the powerful will use their laws and governments to silence him. Like Martin Luther King and Gandhi, free speech without violence makes the world better, even if the world doesn't want to hear it.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Greetings PDH :) I agree that calling it a right was never intended as carte blanche for the worst sort of rudeness and bigotry. It was intended to protect people from persecution for stating a position. These days, many people seem intent on abusing their privilege.


prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 7 years ago from US

hi Paraglider! I always thought that you cant really have absolute free speech. Even if it is a right, politeness is still a virtue because everybody deserves to be respected. There is a price of giving it as a right like in the US.

I am just thinking of a small family unit that everybody have their own opinion and they can voice it out too, but being rude and disrespectful is never a good virtue!


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

I'd prefer to consider knowledge as a body of theoretically disprovable but not yet disproved conjecture. And as such, it is not a system of belief, but the result-space of a system of inquiry. Belief is not necessary.


Bovine Currency profile image

Bovine Currency 7 years ago

We agree then.

On a further note, I consider knowledge as system of belief, proven by action and experience, our beliefs put to practice and cemented not only by consensus (for some, largely based on consensus) but also by the structure of reasoning. Knowledge is like a science, the possibility of any of its parts being false and thus the sum being a house of cards. Such is my faith and my resting on freedom.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Bovine Currency (interesting name) thanks for commenting. Freedom of speech exists even where if exercised it can have dire consequences. One of the problems is people's inability to distinguish between knowledge and belief. It's rare for people to come to blows over knowledge. But they will fight over beliefs precisely because they can't accept that they can't know they are true.


Bovine Currency profile image

Bovine Currency 7 years ago

Nice post,

a successful topic, you got the response. Here goes mine,

I picked up a little about this idea of common courtesy, the religion and politics spiel I got from my parents also. What if we still lived with that ideal? What if the exposure of corruption in our many institutions had never occurred. It is all well and good to defend your religious rights but what then of those who choose do defend by the old tried method of attack? I believe Christ did exist. I wear a crucifix and have a Christian inspired tattoo on my right arm for the world to see. However, I do not consider myself a Christian. I do not believe that Christ was the son of God, no more so than we are all children of God. I do not believe the Church, be that Catholic, Protestant or any other derivitave, to be the keepers of the law under God. Christ was put to death so the story goes for his beliefs. From the bible, I paraphrase, Christ died for his rejection of the laws, he spoke against the pharises and the tax collectors. Christ took his freedom to speech to the bone and to his death. It is my belief and that through my personal study of the bible, that Christ was put to death my the Church and his true message has been lost. I view the Christian faith as no more than a continuation of the wrongs Christ fought to highlight and denote. I am certainly no scholar on Islam, however, I see the Muslim faith in much the same light, I do not care enough to study the Quran but I would like to believe that followers of any religious faith, in good spirit, believe for the sake of self preservation. It is easier to follow than to lead. Should we have freedom to say what we like, yes. Should any and every person have that freedom? yes? What if we have different opinions and we feel so strongly we must fight. Different story, slippery slope.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi MFB - thanks for visiting. You're welcome to take your time and contribute later!


MFB III profile image

MFB III 7 years ago from United States

excellent hub....and a telling question. I will have to think on my response. After all any speech carries a cost, and we have to be able to afford it's price. MFB III


google money master  7 years ago

nicely written


Ivan the Terrible profile image

Ivan the Terrible 7 years ago from Madrid

Very true. Thanks!


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

That's true, but the debate about free speech is older than political correctness and will outlive it too.


Ivan the Terrible profile image

Ivan the Terrible 7 years ago from Madrid

In Spain, at least where I live, political correctness does not exist. People say things they believe and you just accept that this is how they believe. I found that odd when I first moved here several decades ago, but I got used to it and now when I argue (discuss) I am not shy. I believe that in the U.S. political correctness is seen as either a curse or a blessing, depending on which side of an issue people dwell.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Ivan - thanks for commenting. My position is fairly centrist on this. For example, I don't want official or unofficial police controlling what folk say, but I also don't expect to be the state's highest defense priority if I say something that gets me into serious trouble.


Ivan the Terrible profile image

Ivan the Terrible 7 years ago from Madrid

The argument to me is like saying the world is not fair. If the world were 100% absolutely fair we'd all pay for every error and mistake we made. We'd never grow by learning from our mistakes.

I do believe that free speech must be the right of a free people but that one needs to be both tolerant and honest when one speaks. So, if someone says something I find offensive I am tolerant and if I say something that offends another I am allowed to be honest in my speech. Trouble is, we can't have it both ways, it seems. Cartoons mocking, say Mohammed, incite violence and naming a U.S. warship Corpus Cristi makes the ironic connection that the body of christ and a ship meant for killing people have something in common.

Someone is regularly offended all of the time when free speech is allowed. I say, too bad. Get over it. The world is not a fair place after all. So, what?

Good hub.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Sir D - I'll check it out now :)


SirDent 7 years ago

Just want to let you know that I wrote a new hub. I mentioned you and this hub in it and linked it up.

http://hubpages.com/hub/Has-Society-Let-our-Childr...


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Misha - neither am I! Sometimes it's good to question these things.


Misha profile image

Misha 8 years ago from DC Area

LOL Dave, I voted unsure on both, mainly because I am not convinced that such thing as an "absolute right" exists or ever existed...


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Thanks TMG. One of the interesting things (for me) about writing this was finding my views on the subject largely aligned with Enoch Powell's even though politically we'd be miles apart.


TheMoneyGuy profile image

TheMoneyGuy 8 years ago from Pyote, TX

It is great topic,

Only good things can come from something that creates genuine and original thought. Thank you for your support.

TMG


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Livelonger - that's an excellent observation about confusing freedom of speech with the 'right to a sympathetic audience'. Thanks for the insight. At 100+ comments in just over a week, clearly this is a topic that people feel involved with!


livelonger profile image

livelonger 8 years ago from San Francisco

Fascinating topic, hub, and exchanges in the comments.

At least in the US, a lot of people mistake "freedom of speech" to meaning right to a sympathetic audience. A lot of people thought Don Imus's firing (he made a racist comment about female basketball players) was an infringement on his right to free speech. They weren't aware that the right simply protects him from being jailed by the government; it does not protect him from an employer dismissing him, from sponsors from ending their contracts with him, etc.

At any rate, I don't know the specifics, but I don't believe the US "owns" the term, and there are probably several instances of US government authorities overstepping the law and restricting speech. But, as Aya said, the Constitution prevents Congress from enacting laws that restrict free speech; it can't prevent the government from violating the law.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Aya - I don't know the specific answers to all these questions, but private chimp ownership I'd think is allowed. Certainly many people have 'exotic' animals and everything except cruelty is allowed.

There are societies of private rocket engineers who meet to launch their experiments. Of course you have to obey air space regulations but I'm sure that's true in US too.

There is total freedom of religion, which includes starting your own if you want to.

My uncle designed and built his own house on his own plot. More recently, planning regs have become tighter.

I don't know about mineral rights, sorry.

Sheep-cloning would have been legal before anyone had thought of doing it. Once a precedent is set, governments anywhere have to decide whether to allow or forbid it.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

DK5 - thanks for that. Iraq is in a state of war and as Aya said, the occupying force will do what it can to control the media. The expulsion is regretable but comes as no surprise. By its nature, international broadcasting (and the Internet) is a form of 'invasion'. Since the earliest days, countries have jammed incoming signals they don't approve of. In most cases, such censorship is counterproductive. As to your last point, I don't accept it. Already, they have not received complete protection in the US.


Sufidreamer profile image

Sufidreamer 8 years ago from Sparti, Greece

Understood!


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Sufidreamer - Thanks for the comment. I agree the AJ English Channel is up there with BBC World and CNN International as a serious voice in the arena. But if I were on staff there I would not be at liberty to discuss its business publicly (the same applies to BBC staff - all broadcasters look after their public image). Therefore, as a contractor, I would prefer not to discuss my client's business. Sorry about that :)


DK5 profile image

DK5 8 years ago

OK then,here is my original question. A question I believed to be relative to this hub and quite sensible.

Paraglider, Great hub by the way. How do you feel about the expulsion of Al Jazeera from Iraq and the censorship it has received from not only the Iraqi government but from other Nations not happy with the way it covers certain events? Is this a case where you believe in restrictions on the press or do you think they have the right to complete protections such as they would have received here in the United States?


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

Paraglider, I don't believe that a private individual in Scotland can own a chimpanzee or raise it as a child at home.

But just to show that the prohibitions are not limited to this tiny sphere of activity, let's try a few other things:

In Scotland, is a private individual entitled to design, build and fly his own plane? Missile launcher? Hand grenade? Submarine? Spaceship?

If you own land, do you own all the minerals underneath the land? Are you entitled to mine them any way you like? If a stream runs through your land, is the silt at the bottom your own?

In Scotland, can you found your own religion and proselytize? Can you then license people to perform marriage ceremonies? Are you allowed to solicit contributions at the airport?

In Scotland, if you want to build a house, can you build it yourself? Can you design it yourself, without hiring an architect? Can you make it conform to your own tastes and structural preferences, without asking permission of anyone?

In Scotland, if you want to clone a sheep or a human being, can you just do it at home without asking permission of anyone, and then announce it to the world?

Now, at one time or another, all these things were doable in the US, at a time when most of them were already prohibited elsewhere. These are all essentially property rights.


Sufidreamer profile image

Sufidreamer 8 years ago from Sparti, Greece

I watch Al-Jazeera a lot, as an alternative to BBC World. It appears to be a well run outfit and, importantly, gives an alternative angle. Most of the people accusing it of extreme bias have never watched it.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

DK5 - Exceptionally, I have approved your comment in which you accuse me of lying. I will not approve more in that vein.

Furthermore, for anyone who wants to know more about me, there is a very simple 'audit trail' from my profile page to my personal and business websites. I am proud of the work I do and have nothing to hide. But it is not your place to throw my business associations in my face as if I should be ashamed of them. Please desist, then we can discuss the topic sensibly.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Aya - since the earliest days of broadcasting, governments have 'jammed' transmissions from stations they dislike. There's nothing new in that. Bombing is a little more serious, especially in friendly countries, no? (By the way, my involvement in broadcasting is technical, not editorial).

As an ex-pat, you can't buy property in Qatar but if you were Qatari you could do almost anything you wanted to. I'm not sure why you think you'd have a problem in Scotland though, apart from the high price of land, of course.


DK5 profile image

DK5 8 years ago

Paraglider, it is not a fact that Tony Blair thwarted an attack on your headquarters in Qatar,it was a tabloid accusation that Al Jazeera the company that you to work for pursued and never was able to prove. Al Jazeere was also known to show be-headings live, a rumor that was perceived as a fact and was quite damaging to your network. Do you see how facts and rumors can be confused. Al Jazeere was also accused of helping the insurgency and having actual insurgents embedded with their agency as cover. Fact? Probably not but the damage is similar to the damage you portray against My great nation with your falsehoods.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

Paraglider, I think I understand some of the source of misunderstanding in the exchange between you and DK5.

In Iraq, the U.S. is a foreign invader, whose occupation includes meddling in local affairs to the point of military law. There is no pretense that the U.S. involvement in Iraq is even remotely "democratic" or that any of the rights that U.S. citizens have secured in the bill of rights apply to the local inhabitants. If the U.S. is infringing on the freedom of the press in Iraq, that is not very surprising, nor is there anything even remotely unconstitutional about it. Vei victis. Woe to the Conquered.

Have you ever experienced what freedoms Americans qua Americans have at home? That is the only way to properly judge freedom of speech in the U.S.

As for property rights, I'll admit they're gradually being eroded away here, too. But surely you don't think I could do with my small amount of money and acreage what I am doing here in Missouri, if I lived in Qatar or Scotland?


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

DK5 - For the record, I don't 'work for Al Jazeera'. I am an independent contractor and work with many broadcast companies, But I'm not sure what I said that has confused you? The two bombed bureaux and the proposal to bomb the headquarters are public knowledge. They are evidence that the incumbent administration in the US does not support freedom of the press. I have no anti-US bias, but I dislike the foreign policy of the incumbent and, in the spirit of this hub, surely am 'free' to say so?


DK5 profile image

DK5 8 years ago

Paraglider,I am confused by your answer. Al Jazeera has been expelled from Iraq and has been censored elsewhere. I don't think my question to you was out of line. The fact that you work for Al Jazeera should make you a little more sensitive to restrictions on the press and give you first hand knowledge. It is now becoming obvious that you may be a little biased toward the United states .


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

DK5 - Al Jazeera has in its time managed to offend both the US and Saudi. That suggests they must be doing something right! Regarding your comment about complete protection "such as they would have recieved here in the United States", seriously you need to check your facts. The US has bombed at least two Al Jazeera bureaux (Kabul and Baghdad) and it's well documented that it was only Tony Blair's intervention that persuaded GWB not to bomb the headquarters here in Qatar. Free speech, indeed!


DK5 profile image

DK5 8 years ago

Paraglider, Great hub by the way. How do you feel about the expulsion of Al Jazeera from Iraq and the censorship it has received from not only the Iraqi government but from other Nations not happy with the way it covers certain events? Is this a case where you believe in restrictions on the press or do you think they have the right to complete protections such as they would have received here in the United States.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Aya - in Western Europe and Australasia we also have freedom of religion and property rights. These are de facto rights even without a constitution that specifically says so. I know the difference between free and closed societies, having lived and worked in both. But as others have said, many 'freedoms' are illusory even in free societies (the US included) as you very quickly find out when you discomfit the authorities.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

Paraglider, yes, I do feel that I have more freedom of speech here in the US than elsewhere, but this is also partially because I also have freedom of religion and property rights. I think that one of the reasons so many people don't feel what a difference it makes is that they are so well assimilated to the cultures they live in that it would never really occur to them to do or say something that would get them in serious trouble with the general populace and the powers that be. Don't kid yourself: it takes very little courage to comment on the prominent ears of an incumbent president. Real freedom of speech is the ability to say something substantive -- and to back it up with action.

The right to bear arms has been misinterpreted, certainly. It's a misinterpretation to think it was meant to secure hunting rights or the right to shoot the occasional burglar. I mean, yes, it goes without saying that you are allowed to hunt and have the right to self-defense. It never even occurred to the founders that anyone would question that. But the real reason it was inserted in the bill of rights was so that the people could rise up against an oppressive government.

What's happened in the meanwhile, though, is that the nature of the general populace has changed. Most people don't even remember what the American Revolution was about.


countrywomen profile image

countrywomen 8 years ago from Washington, USA

Paraglider- I have to buy a guitar and then also learn from the scratch again it was nearly a 6 years ago I learnt for 3 months but then started preparing for GRE and dropped out of the guitar class. I hope once I get married and settle down in one place I will buy guitar and join a class. And then will bug people like you for any issues I encounter...LOL


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

CW - even five minutes a day is enough to keep the guitar "under the fingers". Try to make the time :)


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi TMG - I'm also much travelled. I recognise (and share) the personal feeling of freedom to speak and act as you see fit. This is very much what I was alluding to in saying "Something many people don't realise is that you are allowed to break the law." Laws are fundamentally warnings of possible consequences of illegal acts. They don't remove your choice to act and risk the consequences. This is one of the reasons I don't think the Bill of Rights really changes anything. It can't be denied though, that in enshrining certain specific freedoms, it differentiates these from freedoms it does not mention, some of which may be more important to some people than those which it enshrines.


TheMoneyGuy profile image

TheMoneyGuy 8 years ago from Pyote, TX

Very Interesting Points all of them,

I have travelled the world over, been to some really cool places and some not so cool places. Picked up a few things about humanity along the way.

I have always felt as if I could say or do anything I wanted to without regard for place and time.

A law can no more stop a murder than it can prevent unpopular speech. Just as a law cannot protect murder or unpopular speech. The law is just an after thought, a paradigm that shifts with the wind.

This is the brilliance of the founding fathers the realization that all humans are born with free will, no matter where they are in the world. They also had the knowledge that only a few will ever exercise this free will. That is why they chose a republic over a democracy.

A very small minority that will forever battle for the hearts and souls of men. The pendulum of power perpetually swinging back and forth between them.

These men fear not laws or judgment as history can be the their only judge and even that judgement ebbs and flows with the tide.

Laws are for the 85% that can be controlled by the usual Skinnerism's. A group controlled and moved by simple stick and carrot tactics. You don't have to be right or just, if you have an angry mob.

TMG


countrywomen profile image

countrywomen 8 years ago from Washington, USA

Paraglider- That is the mark of a great person that one finds a common ground in every situation. I also learnt guitar for about 3 months learnt all the major/minor chords but haven't practiced in a while. I guess I was too caught up with studies and career. Once I get settled in life will pursue guitar again. I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to interact with people of your calibre and temperament.

It's just so sad that some people can't have an open and tolerant attitude towards other faiths and beliefs. Such writings are not only promoting bad blood but also may be dangerous to others and oneself.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

CW - no problem at all :) Sir D uses the option to show only the more recent comments with a link to the rest, so you probably didn't see my contributions. (This is to help long-tailed hubs to open faster). Although Sir D and I have sparred on a few issues, there's nothing personal involved. (And we both play guitar!)


countrywomen profile image

countrywomen 8 years ago from Washington, USA

Paraglider- I didn't know that you already had a debate over a similar issue. I am sorry if I unnecessarily tried to drag you into a further conversation which was unpleasant for you.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Aya - I fully understand why the Bill of Rights was enacted. But in practice do you think that you have greater freedom of speech in the US than in Western Europe or Australasia? And wouldn't you say that the right to bear arms has been seriously misundersood and abused? The Bill of Rights is in no danger; it would be political suicide for any government to attempt to repeal it.

Countrywomen & Sir Dent - I believe a measure of self restraint is the responsibility that has to go hand in hand with the 'right' to free speech. Sir Dent and I clashed over the hub you mention and a couple of others too. We needn't rehearse the arguments again here. But I agree with you that there is simply no need to indulge in competitive religion. It leads nowhere.


countrywomen profile image

countrywomen 8 years ago from Washington, USA

SirDent- I have left a comment in your hub. Yes just as Arkwriter has drawn certain conclusions which he wants to believe in and the same has been undertaken by you in drawing your own conclusion to suit your beliefs.

Why can't you look at positives in other faiths or beliefs? Does it make one a better christian if he/she condemns other beliefs or faiths?


SirDent 8 years ago

CW. I know this is Paraglider's hub. I believe what you are thinking about is something like the following hub.

http://hubpages.com/hub/Defamation-of-Religion


countrywomen profile image

countrywomen 8 years ago from Washington, USA

Paraglider- Would you agree the conclusions drawn by SirDent are to be allowed as a matter of freedom of speech or should their be some level of self regulations (Btw this is the hub I am talking about http://hubpages.com/hub/Christ-or-Muhammad )


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

Paraglider, my comment about prostitutes was precisely to make this point: when prostitution is illegal, prostitutes get beaten up, even though beating up people is also illegal. It doesn't help the prostitute that there is a law against assualt and battery. Where prostitution is illegal, prostitutes are fair game.

For the same reason, your suggestion of passing a law to prohibit lynching of people who say unpopular things is not helpful. We don't need a law against lynching. Murder is already illegal. But if the government is allowed to prohibit people from saying unpopular things, then people saying unpopular things will not have the protection that the law accords against murder.

It's all very well and good to say that all that is required is pragmatism. Pragmatists will always get by okay, no matter the situation. They are essentially opportunists. It's idealists who need protection. It's for the Galileos of this world that we need freedom of speech. They need to be protected from "community standards" of what people are allowed to say.

As for your statement that the government will tend to do illegal things, the founding fathers were well aware of that. This is why they wanted the bill of rights in place. It is also why they reserved the right to bear arms to the people -- so that we could rise up and rebel any time the U.S. government starts to behave like the British government that the founders had just overthrown!


DK5 profile image

DK5 8 years ago

Well Ralph you may find this surprising but I i will be just as offended if the comparisons are made to Obama. Something in me,being an American and respect for the President type of thing I guess. Obama has surprised me and I hope he remains more true to the speech he gave in 2004 than the politician he had to become to win the presidency. He has a very tough road ahead of him and I hope he is up to the challenge.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Amanda - Brian Blessed's a name from the past. Z-Cars if I'm not mistaken?

Ralph - cartoonists aside, we had Arnold Schwarzenegger making schoolboy jokes about his 'skinny arms'. A bit pathetic, that.

Lgali - thanks :)


Lgali profile image

Lgali 8 years ago

nicely written


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