Free Speech: Here to Stay?
Sometimes we forget how much adversity our ancestors faced in order to be free of what they considered injustice. Human history tells many tales of power-grabs, revolution and war. Today we may take for granted our right to speak an unpopular opinion or to assemble and protest, but others have given their lives for us to be afforded these basic human rights.
In some countries outside of the US, speech is broadly policed. Take the UK for instance, which has criminalized some forms of speech. A number of different UK laws outlaw hate speech. Among them is Section 4 of the Public Order Act 1986.
It’s of note that while many violent crimes are committed against women due to their sex, there are paradoxically no laws specifically protecting women. UK Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick states, “We have specific statutes and offences, we don’t have those in relation to gender-related crime or misogyny and, in my view, we should be focusing on the things that the public tell me they care about most”. As you can see only some hate is considered a crime, while other hate is permitted against large and vulnerable groups within the population. This begs the question, who decides? What crosses the line and who should be protected? Certainly men themselves on occasion face violent hate as well due to their sex. Is this not just as heinous?
Perhaps it comes down to efficacy and crime prevention. In England and Whales, Section 57 of the Act came into force on 1 February 2014, making hate speech a crime, yet since this time hate crimes have actually increased dramatically. In fact, they have increased by about 82k when compared to 2013. What laws or strategies actually work to decrease hate crimes and violent crime in general?
Are anti-free speech laws what the public really wants? It’s difficult to know when there is no direct voting on such laws. Switzerland introduced a similar hate speech law but the people proposed a referendum and overturned it due to its overreaching effects on diminishing the human right to speak freely. As the only direct democracy in the world, Swiss citizens have the right to propose referendums themselves and take a vote.
Here in the US there are some laws limiting free speech on the local level – in a couple small jurisdictions. However, the legal consensus generally has been that these type of broad anti-speech laws conflict with our Constitutional rights. What may be most concerning is the incestuous relationship between big tech, big business and government, which could likely create an atmosphere of collision in support of the current interests for those in power. For example, take the recent email leaks which seem to imply that administrative officials are choosing and furthermore actively creating a narrative, instead of simply evaluating many different scientific opinions and making recommendations.
Throughout history heresy has been punishable by death. This is the ultimate limit on freedom of speech and one of the reasons America was colonized as pilgrims sought to escape religious or political oppression. Some of my own ancestors faced persecution, specifically for being Huguenots. Others were of the aristocracy and thusly were jailed during the regime change in their country of origin. Even in modern times this has been an issue abroad, with many in China disappearing after criticizing the government – in any small way.
History is written by the victor, but in artwork you can see the unadulterated perspective of one individual, at a specific point in time. Artwork often reflects the political mores and cultural edicts of its time. This is one of the many reasons artistic freedom is so important; it’s often one of the last free areas of expression.
What do you think? Why is free speech important?
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