‘Freedom of Speech Means the Freedom to Offend.'

Topics: Freedom of speech, Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy, Censorship Pages: 4 (1372 words) Published: March 14, 2008
George Orwell once famously said ‘If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.' This sentence sums up the very essence of free speech; it is, as Orwell believed, the mother of all civil rights. Without the unconditional freedom to offend it cannot exist. Ideas are, more often than not, dangerous things. There is little point in having freedom of speech if it only defends the most popular and innocuous of opinions. The freedom to offend can perpetrate racial, social or religious intolerance; however, conversely, it is also the only means available to fight against such bigotry. Free speech is not something to work towards when the world is ‘better'; it is, rather, the vital tool through which a better world can be built. Absolute free speech is the cornerstone of all civil rights; without it we cannot truly progress.

Now, more so than ever, ideas are dangerous things. All of them, no matter how suitably innocuous they seem at first, have the inherent potential to offend. There has never been (and nor will there ever be) such thing as a universally popular idea- the infinite diversity of human opinion has made sure of that. And yet, offence is, in itself, hardly the most precise of adjectives. A rather relative term, it varies with the subject in question. A public figure, vilified in his own country may be celebrated in another as being a great hero and freedom-fighter. Here we come to the crux of the issue- the definition of free speech, unlike offence, is not relative. It does not change with the years, the country, the demography or the belief. Freedom of expression has always been defined as being absolute. It encompasses literally everything, be it the inane, the incendiary, or the offensive; in fact, it exists solely because of the above. No one needs an amendment that preserves their right to write about how adorable small furry animals are, or to talk about the weather, or how pretty the flowers...
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