Free Speech Debate

Thirteen languages. Ten principles. One conversation.

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1We – all human beings – must be free and able to express ourselves, and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas, regardless of frontiers.»
2We defend the internet and all other forms of communication against illegitimate encroachments by both public and private powers.»
3We require and create open, diverse media so we can make well-informed decisions and participate fully in political life.»
4We speak openly and with civility about all kinds of human difference.»
5We allow no taboos in the discussion and dissemination of knowledge.»
6We neither make threats of violence nor accept violent intimidation.»
7We respect the believer but not necessarily the content of the belief.»
8We are all entitled to a private life but should accept such scrutiny as is in the public interest.»
9We should be able to counter slurs on our reputations without stifling legitimate debate.»
10We must be free to challenge all limits to freedom of expression and information justified on such grounds as national security, public order, morality and the protection of intellectual property.»

What’s missing?

Is there a vital area we have not addressed? A principle 11? An illuminating case study? Read other people's suggestions and add your own here. Or start the debate in your own language.


We speak openly and with civility about all kinds of human difference.

Timothy Garton Ash
A personal introduction

Most of us encounter more diverse people than our ancestors did. We encounter them virtually, through the internet and mobile devices, but also physically. As a result of air travel and mass migration, big cities like London, Hong Kong, Dubai and Toronto are filled with men and women from every country, faith and background. (more...)

Do you agree with this principle? Yes No


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Case studies

  • 2416744097_3b23328c1e_b

    US Supreme Court strikes down law creating ‘buffer zone’ around abortion clinics

    In the case of McCullen v Coakley, the US Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling about restrictions on speech around abortion clinics. Max Harris explains.

    August 25, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • 367205_James-Keegstra

    A landmark Canadian hate speech case: Her Majesty the Queen v Keegstra

    In 1990, the Supreme Court of Canada issued a famous ruling in a case involving a high school teacher and alleged anti-Semitism. Max Harris explains.

    July 26, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • Image by Amirul Hilmi Ariffin (no changes made) under a Creative Commons License.

    Eatock v Bolt: a controversial Australian hate speech case

    Max Harris explains why journalist Andrew Bolt was found in breach of Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act for articles about “fair-skinned Aboriginal people”.

    May 9, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • flickr-3777084437-original

    Brigitte Bardot’s repeated convictions for inciting racial hatred

    Should a world famous actress be allowed to denounce an ‘overpopulation’ by foreigners? By Michèle Finck.

    April 17, 2013 | Comments: 7
  • General view of the European Court of Human Rights hearing room in Strasbourg

    Has the Strasbourg court allowed too much for local taboos?

    At the European Court of Human Rights, the case of I.A. against Turkey in 2005 acted as a controversial precedent for limiting Article 10’s definition of freedom of expression in the name of religion, explains Michele Finck.

    March 8, 2013 | Comments: 0
  • Bettina Wulff

    Can Google’s algorithm slander a politician’s wife?

    Type 'Bettina Wulff', the name of a former German president’s wife, into Google and the autocomplete function will add 'escort'. Is this algorithmic addition a form of defamation? Sebastian Huempfer explores the case.

    October 26, 2012 | Comments: 2
  • Julius Malema Appears In Court For Hate Speech

    Shoot the Boer: hate music?

    In 2011, a South African court banned the anti-apartheid song "Shoot the Boer" after ruling it hate speech, writes Nimi Hoffmann.

    July 26, 2012 | Comments: 1
  • Anti-Gay Activists Continue Protests At War Funerals

    Westboro Baptist Church: the right to free speech?

    In 2011, the US supreme court ruled in favour of the anti-gay church's right to protest at military funerals, writes Casey Selwyn.

    July 5, 2012 | Comments: 0
  • To match feature FRANCE-ELECTION / INTERNET

    Punishing users of extremist websites

    French President Nicolas Sarkozy has proposed a law to punish readers of websites promoting terrorism and violence, writes Clementine de Montjoye.

    May 3, 2012 | Comments: 9
  • Social Networking And Blogging Website Twitter

    A student’s racist tweets

    Liam Stacey, a 21-year-old student, was sentenced to 56 days in prison for posting racially offensive comments on Twitter, writes Maryam Omidi.

    April 20, 2012 | Comments: 27
  • 4626312017_8c0fbc8dfe_b

    Can Christians wear the cross at work?

    Two Christian women are taking their fight to wear a crucifix in the workplace to the European Court of Human Rights, writes Dominic Burbidge.

    April 13, 2012 | Comments: 23
  • (Photo by Keoni Cabral under a Creative Commons Attribution only licence)

    The preacher against homosexuality

    In October 2001, an Evangelical Christian preacher called Harry Hammond held up a placard saying, "Stop Immorality, Stop Homosexuality, Stop Lesbianism." When Hammond refused to stop, a policeman arrested him. Timothy Garton Ash discusses an instructive case.

    March 22, 2012 | Comments: 12
  • Protesters demand release of Cairo 52 (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

    (Not) reporting homosexuality in the Middle East

    Media in the Middle East do not report gay issues in the same way as they would other news. By Brian Pellot.

    February 28, 2012 | Comments: 3
  • Christians Protest Office Shooting

    Blasphemy law and violence in Pakistan

    In 2009, Aasia Bibi, a Christian Pakistani woman was accused of blasphemy. The governor who called for a review of her case was killed two years later, writes Ayyaz Mallick.

    February 16, 2012 | Comments: 1
  • Geert Wilders Speaks In Berlin

    Geert Wilders on trial

    In 2011, Dutch right-wing politician Geert Wilders was cleared of charges of group defamation, incitement to hatred and discrimination against Muslims. Rutger Kaput looks at the case.

    February 10, 2012 | Comments: 0

More case studies

Free Speech Debate is a research project of the Dahrendorf Programme for the Study of Freedom at St Antony's College in the University of Oxford.