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Freedom of Speech…

Posted by Henric C. Jensen on June 16, 2007


Freedom of Opinion, Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Expression are most often considered synonymous with each other. When we use them we most often, if not always, mean “Freedom to Express any Opinion we like in Speech.”But is this synonymization accurate?
Exactly what is covered by those three seemingly identical expressions?

Originally Freedom of Speech was intended to cover the citizen’s right to criticize their Government without fear of reprisals. That is how it is still intended. This can easily be understood by looking at the context Freedom of Speech is covered in Dictionaries. Or by studying the exceptions made in legislation.

In this respect equalizing Freedom of Opinion, Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Expression is correct.

Over time, however, Freedom of Speech has come to cover every man and his dog’s every utterance, whether towards the Government or towards his fellow man. The concept has been vulgarized. This is where Opinion and Speech part ways. Which is evidenced by the additional legislation that has come into being in almost all modern democracies. What would never have been thought of as being socially acceptable within the society where Freedom of Speech originated is now something there has to be legislation against.

“African Americans, Muslims, Jews, Native Americans are inferior to White/Caucasians and deserve to be exterminated…”

“Homosexuals are dirty spreaders of AIDS and should be locked away…”

“Fat People are lazy and stupid…”

“Arabs are terrorists…”

“Jews control the Banks…”

Freedom of Opinion originates in Freedom of Thought – i.e the right to think for yourself, and this should never be limited. I may hold any opinion I like at any time. Also those out-lined above. Those utterances are not covered by Freedom of Speech, because they can all be classified as hate-speech.

So, when people want to limit rights of Speech and Expression to such speech and expression that is not offensive, they are actually protecting the original intent of Freedom of Speech, rather than exercising censorship.

“freedom of speech is integral to tolerance, which some people feel should be a basic value in society. Professor Lee Bollinger is an advocate of this view and argues that “the free speech principle involves a special act of carving out one area of social interaction for extraordinary self-restraint, the purpose of which is to develop and demonstrate a social capacity to control feelings evoked by a host of social encounters.” The free speech principle is left with the concern of nothing less than helping to shape “the intellectual character of the society”.”

Freedom must be tempered by the Responsibility to have Self-Control. That is far from “I wanna say what I wanna say, and I am going to say it NOW!

Shalom!

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