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Is Freedom of Speech an Absolute or Relative Right?

Dave has lived and worked in more than 30 countries. Possibly as a result, some of his articles are hard to categorise, like this one...

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.

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 Constitutional '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.

Comments, newest on top

SALVATORE GIANNOLA on December 12, 2019:

There are limits to everything !

It,is reasonable to say that we should use common sense where freedom of speech is concerned .

Freedom of speech - as long as the speech does not infringe on others freedom of speech as long as that speech impinges on or defames another unjustly !

Inciting a riot is considered unjustified.and yet under certain circumstances it might be justified as, In a dictatorship .

Marshal law may be justified in some specific circumstances and yet it may be seen as a threat in others. The same is true of freedom of speech! Circumstances make all the difference!

Scroll to Continue

M S Beltran from USA on December 11, 2019:

I don't believe Americans should tell other countries how to govern, but I like living in a country that outlines my rights. I particularly like the right to free speech.

Every time someone says certain types of speech should lose First Amendment protection, I can't help but think back through history—not just of America but of the world. I consider all the times people championing justice were silenced by authorities who had the right to do so, the times censorship was used to control the masses, the times the ability to ban the free exchange of ideas was abused to keep people ignorant and in line.

Even in my lifetime, I remember calls to ban certain types of art and entertainment, or the attempts to prevent certain issues from finding a public platform lest the general public give these ideas some thought. Had people succeeded in censoring unpopular ideas back then, we wouldn't be where we are now.

I certainly think that having Free Speech as an absolute right is imperfect but preferable, even if I have to hear things that I find hateful sometimes. The onus is on me in controlling my own reactions rather than trying to control everyone around me.

The US does put restrictions on speech, but those restrictions are mostly based on the manner, time, and place of delivery rather than an attempt to silence thoughts and ideas altogether. Censorship is for authoritarian control; I just don't find that palatable because someone new always comes along to use that control to suit their own agenda.

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on March 18, 2019:

Brad - "Preamble is not a part of the Constitution" That makes perfect sense to me. By way of precedent, you could say that the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer are both presented as standalone pieces, separate and complete in themselves, regardless of surrounding scripture.

Brad on March 17, 2019:

In the Berubari Union case (1960), the Supreme Court said that the Preamble shows the general purposes behind the several provisions in the Constitution, and is thus a key to the minds of the makers of the Constitution.

Despite this recognition of the significance of the Preamble, the Supreme Court specifically opined that Preamble is not a part of the Constitution.

samename on March 17, 2019:

As,the Constitution of the United States of America says ;

We have the God given right to - Life , Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness!

Brad on March 17, 2019:


Spot on, the courts seem to be driven by politics not the constitution.

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on March 17, 2019:

The golf analogy is fair, but unfortunately (at least this is my impression from across the Atlantic) the courts in the US seem to be too politicised to be seen to be impartial arbitrators of truth.

Brad on March 16, 2019:


I am sorry that I missed it when it was new. But I saw it when I was at another hub. There are so few new hubs being written that when I see an oldy but goodie like this one, I like to comment.

Nothing has changed on this subject in 3 years.

In the US, we have defamation laws that put bounds on free speech, and the only defense for defamation is the truth. So, if it is the truth why then shouldn't it be free speech. Defamatory statements against the government can also be free speech.

Free speech can be compared to the games of golf. Golf has rules, and you know from the rules when your ball is out of bounds.

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on March 16, 2019:

Hi Brad, I see you are revisiting this article after three years, so thank you for that! Thanks also for the detail concerning the Magna Carta.

I'm still of the opinion that it would be better not to enshrine the right to free speech in law, but (by specific law) to curtail speech calculated to foment violence, civil unrest and strife.

Brad on March 11, 2019:


"• Are any clauses in Magna Carta still in force in British law today?

Four clauses are commonly agreed to remain in law: clause one guaranteeing that the “English church” shall be “free and shall have its rights undiminished”; clause 13 permitting the City of London to “enjoy all its liberties and ancient customs”; and clauses 39 and 40, which are jointly seen as embodying what have become the rights of habeas corpus – banning arbitrary detention – and trial by jury."

As for our 1st amendment freedom of speech, It is not absolute, but neither should it be chilled where people are afraid to say the wrong word. The left in the US since 2008 has chilled the freedom of speech so that they are the only ones that have freedom to use it however they choose, while at the same time using it as a political hammer to get their way. Freedom of speech should controlled only by the defamation laws, and where it will unduly cause a panic. Like yelling fire in a crowded room, when there isn't a fire.

But as for names, the SCOTUS has allowed things such as, "Fuck the Draft", and burning of the US flag. But now we have to use letters instead of words. And that chills free speech.

The old adage should apply, sticks and stones may break our bones, but words can't hurt us.

right one from Pale Blue Dot on March 27, 2018:

Hi Dave,

It's an insightful piece indeed. Thanks for that.

'Freedom of speech' is itself an all-relative term and it varies from place to place. It demands maturity of thought and tolerance etc, which is not omnipresent.

For instance, expressing an anti-religious remark might be acceptable in a society acknowledging post-modernistic norms. On the other hand, in societies resembling stone-age and where literacy is at lower levels, merely ignoring a sacred ritual might result in bloodshed.

'Freedom of speech should have limitations'

stella vadakin from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619 on January 18, 2016:

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.

Brad on September 24, 2015:

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 from Winnipeg, MB, Canada on May 14, 2015:

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 on February 23, 2014:

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.

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on July 02, 2013:

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 on July 01, 2013:

@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 !

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on March 31, 2012:

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 :)

James Dubreze from New York, New York on March 31, 2012:

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.

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on March 17, 2012:

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! from upstate, NY on March 17, 2012:

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.

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on March 17, 2012:

wba108 - and yet, freedom is every bit as important a concept for non believers and believers alike, surely? from upstate, NY on March 15, 2012:

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.

Mahaveer Sanglikar from Pune, India on January 21, 2012:

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

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on January 21, 2012:

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 on January 20, 2012:

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 on September 29, 2011:

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 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.

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on June 12, 2011:

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!

Larry Conners from Northern Arizona on June 12, 2011:

@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 on June 12, 2011:

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?

Larry Conners from Northern Arizona on June 12, 2011:

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

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on June 12, 2011:

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 on June 11, 2011:

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 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!

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on June 11, 2011:

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 on June 08, 2011:

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" 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"!

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on December 29, 2010:

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 from Worldwide on December 28, 2010:

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.

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on December 16, 2010:

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 from Sierra Vista, AZ on December 16, 2010:

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.

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on December 15, 2010:

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 from Sierra Vista, AZ on December 15, 2010:

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.

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on October 25, 2010:

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 from Texas on October 22, 2010:

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

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on August 15, 2010:

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 from Scotland on August 15, 2010:

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.

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on June 27, 2010:

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

askpowers on June 27, 2010:

Its really an elaborative hub. I like it.

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

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on June 12, 2010:

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 on June 12, 2010:

I know that freedom of speech should have some 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?

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on February 23, 2010:

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

George J Hardy from Southern New Jersey on February 23, 2010:

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.

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on December 05, 2009:

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

T_Augustus from Detroit, MI on December 04, 2009:

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

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on November 29, 2009:

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.

Allen Werner from West Allis on November 29, 2009:

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.

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on November 29, 2009:

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!

Allen Werner from West Allis on November 29, 2009:

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.

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on November 05, 2009:

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 from US on November 05, 2009:

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!

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on November 04, 2009:

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 on November 04, 2009:

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.

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on November 04, 2009:

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 on November 04, 2009:

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.

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on November 02, 2009:

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

Matthew Frederick Blowers III from United States on November 02, 2009:

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 on September 13, 2009:

nicely written

Ivan the Terrible from Madrid on May 05, 2009:

Very true. Thanks!

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on May 04, 2009:

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

Ivan the Terrible from Madrid on May 04, 2009:

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.

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on May 03, 2009:

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 from Madrid on May 03, 2009:

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.

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on January 30, 2009:

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

SirDent on January 30, 2009:

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

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on December 08, 2008:

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

Misha from DC Area on December 08, 2008:

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

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on December 08, 2008:

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 from Pyote, TX on December 08, 2008:

It is great topic,

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


Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on December 08, 2008:

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!

Jason Menayan from San Francisco on December 08, 2008:

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.

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on December 07, 2008:

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.

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on December 07, 2008:

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 from Sparti, Greece on December 07, 2008:


Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on December 07, 2008:

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 on December 07, 2008:

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 from The Ozarks on December 07, 2008:

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 from Sparti, Greece on December 07, 2008:

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.

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on December 07, 2008:

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.

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on December 07, 2008:

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 on December 07, 2008:

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 from The Ozarks on December 07, 2008:

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?

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on December 07, 2008:

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 on December 07, 2008:

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 .

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on December 07, 2008:

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 received 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 on December 07, 2008:

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.

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on December 07, 2008:

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 from The Ozarks on December 07, 2008:

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 from Washington, USA on December 07, 2008:

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

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on December 07, 2008:

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

Dave McClure (author) from Worcester, UK on December 06, 2008:

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 from Pyote, TX on December 06, 2008:

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.


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