Interpreting the frameworks behind ‘free speech’
What is a ‘bill of rights’?A bill of rights is a document in which a country or state lays out the rights of its citizens. The first bill of rights of any kind was the Magna Carta, the English charter from the year 1215, which made peace in the long-running dispute between the King and a group of rebel barons by documenting their rights and protections. The idea of freedom of speech can be found from as early as 1689, as Jacqueline mentioned, in England’s Bill of Rights which legally established the constitutional right of ‘freedom of speech in Parliament’. In 1789, the ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen’ was adopted during the French Revolution, which specifies that:
”The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom…”
”…but [every citizen] shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law.”
The South African Constitution
“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom of the press and other media; freedom to receive or impart information or ideas; freedom of artistic creativity; and academic freedom and freedom of scientific research”.
As we have already seen, however, this freedom also allows for perpetrators of violence to express themselves freely in a public arena, or to gain a public platform. So, in a the context of a global citizenship, how can we begin to manage these tensions? Consider your reactions to the following questions:“propaganda for war; incitement of imminent violence; or advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm.”
- Do you think it is important to limit a person’s freedom of speech if what they are saying is potentially harmful to others, or may incite hatred or violence?
- Who would decide what was or was not crossing that line?
- It is a bigger risk to allow a nation or state to limit freedom of expression, or to allow people to say things which are untrue, or potentially dangerous?
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