Freedom of speech is the right to articulate one’s opinions and ideas without fear of government retaliation or censorship, or societal sanction.
The reason you’re able to read this is NOT just because I could publish it; but, because I wouldn’t be able to express my views if not for the freedom of speech.
Watch this video(with subtitles) to get a glimpse of the terrors of dictatorship and the privilege of free speech.
Why is free speech so important?
Because first of all it allows a person from saying only the things that the majority agrees. It’s the freedom to see things differently. Free speech essentially preserves the personal right of an individual to freely disagree;
and that is absolutely necessary to any nation which sets its eyes on progress.
Thousands if not millions of lives have been sacrificed to promote what we now enjoy as free speech.
Think of all the wonderful things we would have missed out on in the absence of free speech. Imagine being constantly fearful when expressing what you wanted to say. It’s scary isn’t it ?
For the most part of human history, exercising free speech could get you hanged or executed. Free speech was something unimaginable, something that people could only dream of in a far-Utopian society.
Here’s the timeline of free speech:
Socrates speaks to jury at his trial: ‘If you offered to let me off this time on condition I am not any longer to speak my mind… I should say to you, “Men of Athens, I shall obey the Gods rather than you.”‘
Magna Carta, wrung from the unwilling King John by his rebellious barons, is signed. It will later be regarded as the cornerstone of liberty in England.
The Education of a Christian Prince by Erasmus. ‘In a free state, tongues too should be free.’
Galileo Galilei hauled before the Inquisition after claiming the sun does not revolve around the earth.
‘Areopagitica’, a pamphlet by the poet John Milton, argues against restrictions of freedom of the press. ‘He who destroys a good book, kills reason itself.’
Bill of Rights grants ‘freedom of speech in Parliament’ after James II is overthrown and William and Mary installed as co-rulers.
Voltaire writes in a letter: ‘Monsieur l’abbé, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.’
‘The Declaration of the Rights of Man’, a fundamental document of the French Revolution, provides for freedom of speech .
The First Amend-ment of the US Bill of Rights guarantees four freedoms: of religion, speech, the press and the right to assemble.
‘On Liberty’, an essay by the philosopher John Stuart Mill, argues for toleration and individuality. ‘If any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.’
On the Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin, expounds the theory of natural selection. TH Huxley publicly defends Darwin against religious fundamentalists.
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, of the US Supreme Court, outlines his belief in free speech: ‘The principle of free thought is not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought we hate.’
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is adopted virtually unanimously by the UN General Assembly. It urges member nations to promote human, civil, economic and social rights, including freedom of expression and religion.
Two Concepts of Liberty, by Isaiah Berlin, identifies negative liberty as an absence or lack of impediments, obstacles or coercion, as distinct from positive liberty (self-mastery and the presence of conditions for freedom).
After a trial at Old Bailey, Penguin wins the right to publish D H Lawrence’s sexually explicit novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn describes life in a labour camp during Stalin’s era. Solzhenitsyn is exiled in 1974.
Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini issues a fatwa against Salman Rushdie over the ‘blasphemous’ content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. The fatwa is lifted in 1998.
In Manufacturing Consent, Noam Chomsky points out: ‘Goebbels was in favour of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re in favor of free speech, then you’re in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.’
In the wake of 9/11, the Patriot Act gives the US government new powers to investigate individuals suspected of being a threat, raising fears for civil liberties.
Nigerian journalist Isioma Daniel incenses Muslims by writing about the Prophet Mohammed and Miss World, provoking riots which leave more than 200 dead.
Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh is killed after the release of his movie about violence against women in Islamic societies.
The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act bans protest without a permit within 1km of the British Parliament.
The murderous attack on the offices of the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, “Je Suis Charlie” became a rallying cry in France and across much of Europe in support of free speech and freedom of expression.
Although we haven’t yet fully realized free speech, we’re far better than the beheadings and executions that prevail in many totalitarian and Islamic regimes.
Countries such as North Korea, Cuba, Syria, and others have a strict internet censorship and a ban on free speech.
In conclusion, living in a world where free speech is allowed is an under-estimated blessing and a huge reason to be grateful.