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 respect the believer but not necessarily the content of the belief.

Timothy Garton Ash
A personal introduction

This draft principle addresses one of the most difficult issues for freedom of expression. It balances an essential respect for the humanity, dignity and personal choice of every individual believer with an equally vital freedom to question the claims of any belief system, organisation or group.. (more...)

Do you agree with this principle? Yes No



    “That Jew died for you”

    The group Jews for Jesus published a video entitled “That Jew died for you“, depicting Jesus as a victim of the Holocaust. Rabbi Laura Janner –Klausner called for the offensive video to be removed from YouTube. Brian Pellot discusses the free speech implications.

    July 21, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • FSD pic Dominic

    Canada champions tolerance abroad. But what about chez nous in Quebec?

    Charles Taylor asks what motivates practices of exclusion on the basis of religious identity and expression. Dominic Burbidge reports.

    May 29, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • 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
  • tunisianflag

    Who is threatening free speech in post-revolutionary Tunisia?

    Middle East specialist Rory McCarthy examines the role of Islamist movement Ennahdha in shaping, and constraining, freedom of speech in Tunisia after the Arab Spring.

    January 6, 2014 | Comments: 0
  • 552

    Combining freedom and diversity: the challenge of religious difference

    Legal philosopher Martha Nussbaum gave the 2013 Dahrendorf Lecture, exploring how to live with religious diversity.

    June 14, 2013 | Comments: 0
  • Actor Harris performs with the cast of The Book of Mormon during the American Theatre Wing's 66th annual Tony Awards in New York

    I enjoyed the Book of Mormon musical. Now for the Book of Islam?

    The Mormons reacted brilliantly to the musical satirising their faith, but something important is lost when we treat religions so differently - writes Katie Engelhart.

    May 16, 2013 | Comments: 0
  • 4990552886_084bcc8ef6_z

    Taming the gods: religion and politics

    At the 2013 Jaipur Festival, Ian Buruma, Reza Aslan, Ahdaf Souief and Timothy Garton Ash, in conversation with Shoma Chaudhury, talk about the relationship between religion and politics and how to deal with religious threats to free speech.

    April 5, 2013 | Comments: 0
  • I like Facebook, just not the "face" part of it

    A separate social network for Muslims

    More than 1.3 million people apparently ‘like’ Islam on Facebook. Salamworld aims to provide Muslims a halal alternative. Dominic Burbidge explores its potential and pitfalls.

    November 5, 2012 | Comments: 0
  • Westboro protesters

    Nothing Holy About Hatred? Not quite…

    The online campaign Nothing Holy About Hatred takes a faith-based approach to combat homophobia. But, Brian Pellot argues, hatred is enshrined in many religious texts.

    October 29, 2012 | Comments: 1
  • Al-Azhar Mosque

    Al-Azhar’s “Bill of Rights”

    Following the Arab Spring, a venerable Islamic institution’s new Statement on Basic Freedoms suggests where sharia law may (and may not) be compatible with international conventions to guarantee free expression.

    September 3, 2012 | Comments: 0
  • Cartoon Riots Continue Around The World

    The defamation of religion

    Three human rights experts scrutinise the defamation of religion, which they argue misses the point by protecting faith rather than the often vulnerable holders of faith.

    March 27, 2012 | Comments: 0
  • The 2009 New Yorker Festival: Fiction Night

    Does Salman Rushdie exist?

    "The one thing not at issue in the Jaipur controversy was some theologically motivated attack on the freedom of expression," writes historian Faisal Devji.

    March 13, 2012 | Comments: 1
  • Iranian cleric Mohsen Kadivar

    Islam between free speech and hate speech

    The execution of apostates should be annulled but insulting religion should be recognised as a crime, writes Iranian cleric Mohsen Kadivar.

    March 12, 2012 | Comments: 21
  • Professor Irshad Manji

    Irshad Manji on Allah, Liberty and Love

    The director of the Moral Courage Project says so-called "respect" for Muslims is often lined with fear and "low expectations" of those practising the faith.

    March 9, 2012 | Comments: 1
  • BBC Announce Plans For A Major Shake-Up Of The Corporation

    Mark Thompson on the BBC and religion

    The director general of the BBC explains why it aired Jerry Springer: The Opera, and talks about different responses to Christianity and Islam.

    March 3, 2012 | Comments: 10

More discussions

Case studies

  • Palace_of_Europe_-_plenary_hall

    Is the European Court of Human Rights merely defending the uncontroversial?

    A famous case of state censorship in Austria highlights the tendency of governments to pander to the majority, leaving controversial views unprotected. By Michele Finck.

    April 9, 2013 | Comments: 1
  • 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
  • Cows in India

    What’s your beef with my freedom to eat it?

    Bans on eating beef and pork are contested in India. Manav Bhuhshan discusses why this is an issue of caste discrimination and can be seen as a restriction on freedom of expression.

    October 8, 2012 | Comments: 2
  • Pussy Riot

    Pussy Riot, Putin’s Russia and the Orthodox Church

    Was punk band Pussy Riot’s anti-Putin performance in a Moscow church 'religious hatred hooliganism' or an artistic form of political dissent? Olga Shvarova considers the case.

    August 9, 2012 | Comments: 9
  • 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
  • Turkish PM Erdogan Holds Final Pre Election Rally

    Raising a “religious youth” in Turkey

    A new law allowing parents to send their children to Islamic schools at an earlier age has polarized Turkish society, write İrem Kök and Funda Üstek.

    April 18, 2012 | Comments: 1
  • 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
  • naguib

    The trial of Naguib Sawiris

    Naguib Sawiris was accused of contempt for tweeting an image of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, respectively sporting a bushy beard and veil, writes Jacob Amis

    February 28, 2012 | Comments: 1
  • Social Networking And Blogging Website Twitter

    A Saudi blogger’s “blasphemous” tweets

    As of August 2012, Saudi Arabian writer Hamza Kashgari faced a trial for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad on Twitter, writes Brian Pellot.

    February 27, 2012 | Comments: 3
  • 827px-JerrySpringerandDevilPhoto

    Jerry Springer & blasphemous libel

    BBC television’s broadcast of Jerry Springer: The Opera in January 2005 was met with protests by Christian groups. Maryam Omidi discusses whether the BBC was right to air the programme.

    February 24, 2012 | Comments: 2
  • 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
  • Doda

    A Polish pop star derides the Bible

    In 2010, Polish singer Doda was charged with "offending religious feelings" after she said she believed more in dinosaurs than the creation story in the Bible. Annabelle Chapman considers the case.

    February 10, 2012 | Comments: 7
  • Broken glass from the Piss Christ (Photo by Boris Horvat/AFP/Getty Images)

    The Piss Christ

    Since its creation in 1987, Artist Andres Serrano's Piss Christ, a plastic crucifix in a jar of urine, has divided opinion. In April 2011, the artwork was irreparably damaged by vandals at the Collection Lambert art museum. Katie Engelhart considers whether it was right for the museum to have exhibited the work.

    January 23, 2012 | Comments: 5

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.