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.

Home | Archives | Religion
Context, civility and law thumbnail

Context, civility and law

Published on: August 27, 2014 | Principle 4 | Comments: 0

Freedom of religion requires freedom of expression thumbnail

Freedom of religion requires freedom of expression

Published on: August 27, 2014 | Principle 4 | Comments: 0

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.

Published on: August 27, 2014 | Principle 1 | Comments: 0

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'.

Published on: August 18, 2014 | Principle 1 | Comments: 0


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.

Published on: July 26, 2014 | Principle 4 | 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.

Published on: April 18, 2014 | Principle 10 | 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.

Published on: March 31, 2014 | Principle 4 | Comments: 0


What really threatens free expression in India

Faisal Devji explores the deeper lessons from the forced withdrawal of an ‘alternative history’ of the Hindus.

Published on: February 26, 2014 | Principle 5 | Comments: 0


‘They used the oven to get tanned, you know…’

Marc-Antoine Dilhac recounts how he confronted anti-semitic prejudice in a French classroom, and argues that more good comes from an open debate about hate speech than from banning it.

Published on: February 6, 2014 | Principle 10 | Comments: 2


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.

Published on: January 6, 2014 | Principle 10 | Comments: 0

David Cameron

Opt-in for porn? Then why not for religion?

Leslie Green, a distinguished legal philosopher who has written extensively about issues of obscenity and pornography, challenges our case study on online porn filters.

Published on: January 1, 2014 | Principle 2 | Comments: 3

Ahmed Akkari says "it was okay" that Jyllands-Posten printed cartoons

From Muslim activist to free speech defender: the story of Ahmad Akkari and the Danish cartoon controversy

Katie Engelhart speaks to Ahmad Akkari to find out why he apologised to one of the Danish cartoonists eight years after fuelling worldwide fury.

Published on: September 25, 2013 | Principle 1 | Comments: 0

Indian activists from a hardline Hindu group burn a poster of Indian artist Husain during a protest in Bangalore

Why did M F Husain feel he had to leave India?

Shruti Kapila, Patrick French and Faisal Devji discuss freedom of expression and the arts in India.

Published on: July 15, 2013 | Principle 5 | Comments: 0


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.

Published on: June 14, 2013 | Principle 7 | Comments: 0

Anti-government protesters drink beer atop a building as thousands of protesters gather in Istanbul's Taksim square

Message from the “heartbeat” city: participatory democracy or bust!

Gezi Park has become a public square for political free expression, writes Ayşe Kadıoğlu.

Published on: June 12, 2013 | Principle 1 | 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.

Published on: May 16, 2013 | Principle 7 | Comments: 0


Jesus Christ Superstar? Not in Rostov, Russia

The Russian parliament’s vote in support of a declaration against acts offending religious sentiments is symptomatic of worrying trends, write Olga Shvarova and Dominic Burbidge.

Published on: May 8, 2013 | Principle 4 | Comments: 0


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.

Published on: April 5, 2013 | Principle 7 | Comments: 0

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.

Published on: March 8, 2013 | Principle 4 | Comments: 0


Free speech as seen by a believer in an Abrahamic religion

Islam, Christianity and Judaism are often accused of wanting to restrict free speech. Dominic Burbidge suggests a radically different perspective, from inside the thought-system of the Abrahamic faiths.

Published on: February 25, 2013 | Principle 1 | Comments: 3

Aung San Suu Kyi Makes Election Debut As Myanmar Votes

The practice of freedom

Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi stresses the importance of free speech but emphasises the Buddhist idea of "right speech".

Published on: January 31, 2013 | Principle 1 | Comments: 1

Screen Shot 2013-01-16 at 09.11.14

Mismanaging India’s Temples – Violation Of ‘Freedom To Practice One’s Own Religion’?

The Indian constitution grants freedom to worship freely, but the mismanagement of temples undermines this freedom, writes Avani Bansal.

Published on: January 17, 2013 | Principle 7 | Comments: 2

The future of free speech

The Future of Free Speech

Aryeh Neier, human rights lawyer and president emeritus of the Open Society Foundations speaks about the future of free speech.

Published on: January 11, 2013 | Principle 1 | Comments: 0

4 Performer_Lee_Davern_Photographer_Matt Nettheim

Can theatre talk about this?

How a dance theatre production addresses issues of free speech, Islam and multiculturalism. Lloyd Newson, creator of 'Can we talk about this?', speaks to Maryam Omidi.

Published on: December 12, 2012 | Principle 4 | Comments: 1

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.

Published on: November 5, 2012 | Principle 3 | 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.

Published on: October 29, 2012 | Principle 4 | Comments: 1

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.

Published on: October 8, 2012 | Principle 1 | Comments: 2

Indonesian protesters

Defending Islam and free speech

FSD's Katie Engelhart sat in on this Frontline Club debate to discuss controversy surrounding the YouTube video Innocence of Muslims.

Published on: October 4, 2012 | Principle 6 | Comments: 1

Syed Mahmood

A Muslim responds to the YouTube movie – on YouTube

While a Pakistani minister offers a $100,000 reward for the murder of the man who made the notorious Innocence of Muslims video, a British Muslim responds in exemplary fashion to "this imbecile named Sam Bacile". Timothy Garton Ash commends his clip.

Published on: September 28, 2012 | Principle 10 | Comments: 2

Libya US consulate

Has Innocence of Muslims ended the innocence of YouTube?

Join us to debate the role internet platforms like YouTube should play in setting free speech agendas in your country, your language and across the world. Online editor Brian Pellot kicks off the discussion.

Published on: September 26, 2012 | Principle 2 | Comments: 17

Carnations and placards are placed on the spot outside the Agos newspaper building during a commemoration to mark Dink's fifth death anniversary in Istanbul

Combatting hate speech in Turkish media

The Hrant Dink Foundation has run the Media Watch on Hate Speech project since 2009 to counter racist and discriminatory discourse in Turkish press. Project coordinators Melisa Akan and Nuran Agan explain the initiative.

Published on: September 17, 2012 | Principle 4 | Comments: 0

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.

Published on: September 3, 2012 | Principle 7 | Comments: 0

John Lennon Olympics

How Turkey’s imagination was censored during the Olympics

During the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, a Turkish National TV presenter censored John Lennon’s song Imagine. FSD team member Funda Ustek discusses how Turkey is trying to eliminate its citizens’ ability to imagine a world without religion.

Published on: August 31, 2012 | Principle 1 | Comments: 0

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.

Published on: August 9, 2012 | Principle 10 | Comments: 9

A product of 9.11? thumbnail

A product of 9/11?

Published on: July 31, 2012 | Principle 7 | Comments: 0

Religion obfuscating respect thumbnail

Religion obfuscating respect

Published on: July 31, 2012 | Principle 7 | Comments: 0

UN defamation of religion resolution was blurred thumbnail

UN resolution was blurred

Published on: July 31, 2012 | Principle 7 | Comments: 0

UN defamation of religion resolution falls short thumbnail

UN resolution fell short

Published on: July 31, 2012 | Principle 7 | Comments: 0

Top 5 free speech issues  thumbnail

Top 5 free speech issues

Published on: July 30, 2012 | Principle 1 | Comments: 0

Oxford Literary Festival

Elif Shafak on our common humanity

​Acclaimed Turkish author Elif Shafak discusses the limits to free speech, the cosmopolitanism of her novels and the art of coexistence.

Published on: July 26, 2012 | Principle 1 | Comments: 1

Vulnerable minorities vs secure majorities thumbnail

Vulnerable minorities vs secure majorities

Published on: July 18, 2012 | Principle 7 | Comments: 0

One rule for Jesus, another for Muhammad? thumbnail

One rule for Jesus, another for Muhammad?

Published on: July 18, 2012 | Principle 7 | Comments: 0

Blasphemy as 'objective harm' thumbnail

Blasphemy as ‘objective harm’

Published on: July 18, 2012 | Principle 7 | Comments: 0

Jerry Springer and threats of violence thumbnail

Jerry Springer: art or blasphemous libel?

Published on: July 18, 2012 | Principle 7 | Comments: 0

Questioning the 'Ground Zero' mosque thumbnail

Questioning the ‘Ground Zero’ mosque

Published on: July 11, 2012 | Principle 7 | Comments: 0

The Muslim 'ploy' thumbnail

The Muslim ‘ploy’

Published on: July 11, 2012 | Principle 7 | Comments: 0

Death threats on YouTube thumbnail

Death threats on YouTube

Published on: July 11, 2012 | Principle 7 | Comments: 0

Offence is the price of honest diversity thumbnail

Offence is the price of honest diversity

Published on: July 11, 2012 | Principle 7 | Comments: 0

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.

Published on: July 5, 2012 | Principle 4 | Comments: 0

Demonstration To Protest Against The Ban Of Full-Face Veil In Public Places

What not to wear

Maryam Omidi takes a look at banned clothing around the world – and concludes that women tend to be the target of dogmatic dress codes.

Published on: June 19, 2012 | Principle 1 | Comments: 2


Non-state censorship in modern-day India

At an event in Oxford in 2011, three Indian scholars called on OUP India to re-publish an essay which had been denounced by Hindu extremists. Less than two weeks later, the publisher reversed its earlier decision not to re-publish.

Published on: May 24, 2012 | Principle 1 | Comments: 0

Activists Protest ACTA Proposal

On Free Speech: The power of the web

This latest episode looks at the ethics of hacktivism, crowdsourcing in war zones and the right of Christians in the UK to wear the cross at work.

Published on: May 22, 2012 | Principle 2 | Comments: 0

Tarek Mehanna Sentenced To 17 Years In Prison

Is pro-terrorist speech a crime? Massachusetts says so

In 2012, Tarek Mehanna was sentenced to 17 and a half years in prison by a US court for conspiring to provide support to terrorists, writes Jeff Howard.

Published on: May 22, 2012 | Principle 10 | Comments: 6

William Jennings Bryan At Scopes Trial

Teaching creationism in US schools

A new Tennessee law will permit teachers to discuss creationism alongside theories of evolution, writes Casey Selwyn.

Published on: May 2, 2012 | Principle 5 | Comments: 14

Arab Students Rally At UC Irvine

Why hate speech should not be banned

Restrictions on hate speech are not a means of tackling bigotry but of rebranding often obnoxious ideas or arguments are immoral, argues writer Kenan Malik.

Published on: April 30, 2012 | Principle 4 | Comments: 15

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.

Published on: April 18, 2012 | Principle 10 | Comments: 1


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.

Published on: April 13, 2012 | Principle 10 | Comments: 21


On free speech: The fine art of activism

The third episode of the On Free Speech podcast features exclusive interviews with filmmaker Nick Sturdee on the Russian art collective Voina and stand-up comedian Tom Greeves on the UK's parody laws.

Published on: April 10, 2012 | Principle 1 | Comments: 0

Silent Walk In Tribute to The Victims Of Shooting In Jewish School

Broadcasting a massacre

In March 2012, self-proclaimed jihadist Mohammed Merah strapped a camera to his chest before killing seven people in France. Al-Jazeera TV channel opted not to show the footage, writes Jeff Howard.

Published on: April 2, 2012 | Principle 10 | Comments: 2

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.

Published on: March 27, 2012 | Principle 7 | Comments: 0

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.

Published on: March 12, 2012 | Principle 10 | Comments: 21


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

Published on: February 28, 2012 | Principle 7 | Comments: 1


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.

Published on: February 24, 2012 | Principle 10 | Comments: 2

Turkish flag (Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

How Turkish taboos perpetuate immaturity

Professor Ayşe Kadıoğlu of Sabancı University speaks of her experience growing up in Turkey where taboos, many imposed by law, have trapped citizens "in a state of immaturity".

Published on: February 17, 2012 | Principle 10 | Comments: 1

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.

Published on: February 16, 2012 | Principle 4 | 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.

Published on: February 10, 2012 | Principle 4 | Comments: 0


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.

Published on: February 10, 2012 | Principle 10 | Comments: 7

The exterior of the Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre International, Los Angeles, California (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)

Tom Cruise sues South Park

Manav Bhushan and Casey Selwyn question whether it was right for Tom Cruise to threaten to sue US show South Park over an episode that depicted Scientology in a pejorative manner and blatantly hinted that he was gay.

Published on: February 9, 2012 | Principle 4 | Comments: 1

Savita Bhabhi

India’s cartoon porn star

The Indian authorities' decision to ban Savita Bhabhi, an online comic strip featuring a promiscuous housewife with an insatiable appetite for sex, was met with a criticism from the press. Maryam Omidi weighs up whether it was the right decision.

Published on: January 24, 2012 | Principle 10 | Comments: 2

Afghan protester shouts while holding a sign during a peaceful demonstration in Kabul

Is nothing sacred? Religion and free speech

Watch and listen to atheist philosopher A C Grayling, journalist and practising Christian Charles Moore, and Usama Hasan, a scientist and imam, discuss free speech and religion.

Published on: January 20, 2012 | Principle 7 | Comments: 4

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.