Freedom of speech

When did freedom of speech become the highest value a country can aspire to?

So essential is it that here in Australia we don’t have it as an explicit right. It’s absent from the Australian Constitution and we have no Bill of Rights. This fact doesn’t stop hundreds of thousands of Australians on social media talking about rights they don’t actually have.

And even if it were enshrined in Australian legislation, and in every country in the world, and were enforced to the letter (which is also questionable), so what? Is that all there is? The freedom to say whatever one likes?

Freedom of speech as an aspiration is spurious, paltry, a diversion from the main game.

It’s too small an aspiration for human being, and provides no ground on which to stand.

Generosity. Peace. Understanding. Love. Compassion. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Mercy. Courage.

There’s ground.



13 thoughts on “Freedom of speech

  1. I guess the danger comes when individuals can be beaten up, jailed, sent to concentration camps or even killed for making even the mildest criticism of those in authority. I hear what you’re saying about deep listening and compassionate speaking, but on another level I am deeply concerned about the loss of civil and human rights brought about by the “war on terror”.


  2. There are generally three recognized limits to free speech – and their respective slippery slopes, at least here in the US:

    1) Public Safety – you cannot yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater and call it free speech. The slippery slope can lead to not-quite-so-direct matters of affecting public safety, but this is the first category.

    2) Slander / Liable – you cannot make untrue statements that discredit a person’s character. Public figures seem to be somewhat exempted from this, but not entirely.

    3) Obscenity – not covered by free speech. Again, like the other two categories, the interpretation of what this is – is up for debate and court rulings.


    • Hi Mr Bachelor. Thanks for outlining the situation in the US. Have they ever discussed adding an exception for something like “inciting hatred”? Just curious. Or maybe that would come under the “obscenity” ground?

      Australian lawmakers have tried (maybe even succeeded?) from time to time in “reading in” to the Constitution a prohibition on inciting hatred (or similar).

      My concern at present is that the US conversation for freedom of speech is being imported wholesale into Australia without close thought or attention to detail or context. It concerns me because, looking in from the outside, it seems the conversation doesn’t always serve the US. I get my view is limited and you may have a different view.

      A few months ago, the Aust Attorney General proposed changing the constitution with some “free speech” clause. He proudly stated that everyone “should be entitled to be a bigot.” This is the depth to which our parliament has sunk. This nonsense was entertained for some months. Recently, I note, he’s gone very quiet on the matter.


  3. There’s been discussion in Australia in last day about whether the Charlie Hebdo cartoons would have been able to be published here. Various legal experts have said “no” or “highly unlikely” based on section 18(c) of the Racial Discrimination Act (not the Constitution as I implied) which states:

    “It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:
    (a) the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and
    (b) the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.”

    It is this section which the Australian Attorney General proposed watering down, as he said, because people “had the right to be a bigot”. Incredibly, SINCE the Paris massacre, one or two members of the Government have revived their calls to water down the clause. They see the massacre as a reason to loosen limits on free speech. This shocks me.


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