The Absolute Right of Free Speech
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“I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” * Voltaire (18th Century French Philosopher)
A fundamental aspect of humanity is the capability of complex communication and logic, something which has deemed us far superior to creatures much stronger and faster than our relatively feeble bodies. However, mankind often falls prey to bigotry, believing in a single opinion and refusing to listen to any other, a flaw which has brought forth much devastation to society. The implementation of democracy allowed the gradual evolution of the freedom of expression, ensuring the right for people to speak their thoughts without fear of oppression or punishment. Yet with every right, there comes a responsibility; the freedom of speech is not absolute and shouldn’t be, for every word has power behind it and should be treated with such value.
Allowing absolute freedom of speech would result in chaos, prohibiting punishment for threats, disturbances or false information. Freedom of expression should be defined as a basic human right, yet not an absolute one. The earliest example of the oppression of opinion occurred in the first democracy of the world, Athens. The renowned philosopher Socrates was sentenced to death by the democratic government of Athens, for his views that defied the Athenian gods and supposedly corrupted the youth. The Athenians had excessive pride, known to them as hubris, and were not ready to have their core principles challenged with such force.
Had they been more open minded and accepting of the clear logic of Socrates, the Golden Age of Athens may have survived for much longer. This is not simply a problem of the past; Malala Yausafzai, a young Pakistani girl, was attacked by the Taliban for writing on her right to an education and giving her views on the oppressive Taliban government. She was shot in the head for expressing her opinion, one filled with clarity, which was against that of the Taliban. A common theme that can be seen in all both the aforementioned examples is the dogmatic nature of the oppressing party. The hubris of the Ancient Athenians and the bigotry of the Taliban are all a product of the same power-hungry aspect of human nature.
The mainstream opinion of society is difficult to challenge, for it is often the basis of many customs. Should these opinions be changed, the intricate social system would fall apart, especially the politics. The Medieval Church suppressed scientists and their views, to protect the Church’s power by ensuring that Christians did not lose faith. The Athenian leaders, filled with the hubris that destroyed them, feared Socrates may ‘corrupt’ the views of the youth by making them examine their own opinions.
Many of the issues faced by people throughout history, issues based around a fear of change and desire for power, would never be faced in the modern democratic society. There are no basic rules that are needed for a democracy to occur, no need for Christian faith or Athenian pride, simply the ability to give and to accept. The idea of democracy is centered on equality, giving everybody a voice and allowing all opinions to be heard. Freedom of speech is intricately linked to democracy, an indispensable tool of self-government. Rather than the public being passive spectators in the establishing and dictating of truth, free speech allows for diverse opinions to come together and form a final conclusion that fits the needs of everybody.
Civilizations have accomplished very little by oppressing logical opinions to maintain the comfortable state of their society. The governments of developing countries bust create an open-minded atmosphere; they should take criticism and use it as feedback for improvement, rather than arguing against it. Similar to a student learning, a country develops and grows by accepting mistakes and constantly learning rather than arguing. The freedom of speech should clearly be defined as a basic human right, simply not absolute. The criticizing of religions and governments should be permitted, yet with every right there comes a responsibility and at times moderation should be exercised.
An example of this is the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ movie which created massive uproar in the Middle East. The creator of the video had the right to make it and to share it, knowing that his freedom of speech would be protected; however after the anger over the video and the plea from the White House, the creator of the video should have removed it to possibly restore peace. He would have been under no legal obligation to do so and would be acting out of his own responsibility. The freedom of speech should be limited in areas where other laws or rules are violated. Somebody threatening to commit a crime should not be able to claim their right of free speech since there is the possibility of another law being violated.
A person screaming in an inappropriate place should not be protected for his freedom of speech since he would be charged for disturbing the peace. Somebody that has made agreements to secrecy, whether they are in a military organization or in private business that cannot reveal information, should not be able to claim that they were exercising their right of free speech after violating the rules. Words have great power; to anger, to inspire, to cause people to rise and act out.
They should not be limited and one should be able to use them in any way that one may desire, yet should act with responsibility and use their words for the growth of society. The freedom of speech should not be absolute and certain situations, where other crimes are committed, should not be excused. Free speech should be declared a fundamental human right, something which would develop countries further and allow change to be accepted, since it is the ability to communicate which places humans above other animals.