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


  • Rae Langton Thumbnail

    Rae Langton on philosophy, free speech and pornography

    In this interview for Free Speech Debate, renowned Philosophy Professor Rae Langton speaks about the value of philosophy for our understanding of free speech and discusses aspects of her work on pornography and the silencing of women.

    June 15, 2015 | Comments: 0
  • Buddha worship

    What did the Buddha mean by ‘right speech’?

    Matthew Walton explores the deeper Buddhist context of right speech – and soul-searching on Buddhist internet message boards.

    February 10, 2015 | Comments: 0
  • Burmese monks

    Right speech

    Leslie Green argues that Buddhist ideas about avoiding divisive, abusive and false speech can help us live together well in free societies

    January 24, 2015 | Comments: 0
  • Man addressing crowd at Speakers' Corner, London

    Living in outrageous times

    Peter Bradley argues that we should tolerate offence but be less offensive

    December 18, 2014 | Comments: 4
  • hand on mouse

    Free to fantasise? Pornography and its harms.

    Jo Fidgen asks what the hard evidence is for negative effects of pornography on sexual behaviour.

    December 1, 2014 | Comments: 1
  • Gaza reporting

    Clueless in Gaza: Western media and the Arab-Israeli conflict

    John Lloyd explores the history and weakness of Western media coverage, and suggests one way it could be improved.

    October 10, 2014 | Comments: 3
  • Freedom to offend? thumbnail

    Freedom to offend?

    At the London School of Economics Students's Union Freshers' Fair members of the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Student Society were asked to cover up their T-shirts displaying a Jesus and Mo cartoon. This panel discussion discusses the freedom to offend and how to balance freedom of expression and civility.

    August 27, 2014 | Comments: 1
  • Blasphemy Laws in Europe thumbnail

    Should Europe introduce a ‘right to blaspheme’?

    Alain Bouldoires talks to Timothy Garton Ash about the survival of blasphemy laws in Europe, and calls for a 'right to blaspheme'.

    August 18, 2014 | Comments: 0
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    Should ISPs be told to block “adult” content?

    Internet Service Providers do not merely route data packets from end-to-end, but are heavily involved in monitoring their customers’ online activities. Ian Brown discusses the implications of Britain's suggested “voluntary” opting out of “adult content”, with little parliamentary and court involvement.

    July 15, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • Russia swearing

    Profanity, purity and politics — the battle for the Russian language

    A law banning swear words in the arts in Russia has come into effect in July 2014. Maryam Omidi discusses the implications.

    July 7, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • 4606341298_ce0e5a94c0_z

    EU versus intellectual freedom?

    In a bid to synchronise hate crimes, the EU is seeking unity amongst members states against the denial of historical injustices. Is this the EU versus member states’ appreciation of intellectual freedom? Luigi Cajani explains.

    June 19, 2014 | Comments: 1
  • Bassem Youssef

    Egypt: the show is over

    Bassem Youssef and the Egyptian struggle for freedom of speech.

    June 10, 2014 | Comments: 2
  • Protest

    The long struggle to bury speech crimes in the English-speaking world

    Anthony Lester and Zoe McCallum look at how the ghost of the English Court of the Star Chamber has been used to suppress free speech.

    April 28, 2014 | Comments: 1
  • cartoon protest

    Why Yale UP did not publish the Danish cartoons

    John Donatich, the director of Yale University Press, explains and defends his decision not to include illustrations in Jytte Klausen’s book.

    April 18, 2014 | Comments: 3
  • hate speech

    Nineteen arguments for hate speech bans – and against them

    Free speech scholar Eric Heinze identifies the main arguments for laws restricting hate speech and says none are valid for mature Western democracies.

    March 31, 2014 | Comments: 0

More discussions

Case studies

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    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: 1
  • 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: 9
  • 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: 3
  • 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: 7
  • 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
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    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: 21
  • (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.