Freedom of Speech and
Civilised Debate

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We gave birth to liberty – yet basic freedoms are deteriorating

A depiction of King John signing the Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215 which ended despotism and gave birth to liberty. It is this history of our nation that makes the deterioation of basic freedoms today the more unpalatable.
By no other means is it clearer that our country has been losing its way than when we observe that freedom of speech and civilised public debate is in such ill health.

Freedom of speech is the most important value necessary for a democratic and cohesive society.

It is the freedom of speech that is the foundation of a confident nation that encourages its people to openly debate issues, explore ideas and choose for ourselves what we want for our society. The alternative is for political groups, government authorities, academic institutions and the media to decide on our behalf what we should think – and alarmingly, we are increasingly heading in this direction.

If you cannot speak freely, you cannot think freely. It should be the right of every citizen to express any opinion they see fit, no matter how controversial or offensive to some, without fear of inquisition or prosecution.

We should abandon “hate speech” and censorship legislation and government action in favour of renewing our ancient Bill of Rights with a new citizens’ guarantee of free speech.

If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.
George Orwell  (1903-1950) British Author

Short-sighted government action to combat “hate speech” is providing authoritative encouragement for the suppression of legitimate and necessary speech, and they should think again.

Hate speech is defined on paper as prejudice towards individuals based on properties such as race, culture or lifestyle. But given the highly subjective nature of judging speech in this regard, it is wholly impractical.

Today you are likely to be labelled a “racist” should you argue for a stricter immigration policy, a “transphobe” for opposing gender-neutral toilets, or an “islamophobe” for engaging in one of the oldest arguments in human history by criticising a religion.

Where does this all end? It ends in silence. A society where people are simply too afraid to express a contrary opinion out of fear of unjust public condemnation by a disagreeable and unreasonable mob.

Nobody has the right in society not to be offended.

The crass notion of prioritising the victimhood of those who feel offended over the inalienable liberty for citizens to express themselves freely, is a repulsive trend that must be permanently dispelled.

Spiral of silence – The effect of the misguided “hate speech” agenda

An online advertisement by South Yorkshire Police appealing for the reporting of “offensive or insulting comments”.

Case in Point – One person’s “hate speech” is another’s legitimate opinion

With thousands of examples to choose from, one in particular, minor but symbolic, stands out due to its unique touch of irony.

In July 2016 the then Home Secretary Amber Rudd published a document entitled “Action Against Hate – The UK Government’s plan for tackling hate crime“, authoring the foreword on page five.

Just a few months later in October, Ms Rudd gave a keynote speech at the Conservative Party conference and the speech included a remark about encouraging the prioritisation of British workers over foreign workers.

However, shortly after Ms Rudd was reported to the police by a member of the public on the grounds of “hate speech”. Although the matter was not formally investigated, it was officially recorded by West Midlands Police as a “hate incident“.

Then Home Secretary Amber Rudd giving a speech in 2016 that was later the subject of an official police recorded “hate incident”.

Many politicians are to blame for our current uncivilised debate

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The phrase ‘empty vessels make the most noise‘ is particularly applicable to our present-day politics.

While we are neither admirers or defenders of the Conservative Party, it is noteworthy that Labour’s relentless hatred of their main rivals continues to poison otherwise healthy debate for everyone.

Today many of our universities are in favour of diversity of many things, except political opinion.

They are gearing away from intellectual exploration in this regard and universities as well as students should reconsider.

The concept of “safe spaces” in universities seek to outlaw certain opinions, while “no-platforming” policies seek to outlaw certain speakers.

Students learning in this environment are tomorrow’s citizens and tomorrow’s law makers. Should they transition into the real world with such a narrow outlook, limited understanding and emotional fragility?

While we wouldn’t favour legislating to prevent safe spaces, students should of course be free to formulate them, but our universities and wider society should strongly discourage them.

Universities should challenge today’s students not to hide from contrary ideas and opinions, but to confront them head on and assess and critique them objectively with reason, logic and evidence. This is after all the very skill they will need in the future.

Universities should encourage diversity of ideas – not shield students from them


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