BunkerMulligan Freedom of Speech 2009

Freedom of speech is presently protected in Australia largely through the common law and Parliament though it has received some constitutional protection through recent decisions of the High Court. In most other countries, speech receives special protection through the Constitution or, as in New Zealand, legislation which gives specific priority to rights. Freedom of speech is important, and it must include the freedom to say what everyone else believes to be false, and even what many people take to be offensive. Religion remains a major obstacle to basic reforms that reduce unnecessary suffering. Freedom of speech is not an excuse to harm others.

I believe in passionately and had to fight for in the early days of our democracy. In 1997 in a speech in Parliament I named 8 senior members of the ANC who I had information had allegedly been Apartheid spies. Freedom of Speech is a right and a privilege. As a privilege, there are rules. Freedom of speech is crucial both to a healthy democracy and the life of the mind. The 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits Congress from any act that would abridge it and the charters of most of our colleges and universities recognize that freedom of thought and speech are essential to a healthy academic community.

Freedom of speech is ever the symptom, as well as the effect, of good government. In old Rome, all was left to the judgment and pleasure of the people; who examined the public proceedings with such discretion, and censured those who administered them with such equity and mildness, that in the space of three hundred years, not five public ministers suffered unjustly. Freedom of speech is therefore not unlimited as is sometimes believed. Freedom of speech is under more than attack in Russia, it is under a death threat. Last Friday, Ivan Safronov, a retired colonel and military affairs correspondent for the Russian newspaper Kommersant, died after falling from a window in his apartment building.

Freedom of speech is crucial in any democracy, because open discussions of candidates are essential for voters to make informed decisions during elections. It is through speech that people can influence their government's choice of policies. Freedom of speech is not what it used to be in America. It has been so abused by some that it is not exercised by others. Freedom of speech is only free when the speech is politically correct. Those who hold views that cannot stand the test of open debate, abuse the system to silence the majority.

To have Freedom of speech is never guaranteed. Although governments may boast of the freedom they extend to their people, it can be lost in a change of government or of court justices, as experience has shown. Freedom of speech is one of science’s most important norms. Nineteenth-century philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill developed an influential account of the importance of freedom of speech in public debate. Freedom of speech is dying an excruciating death. Watching it die is difficult enough, but knowing that, somehow, by my silence, I am complicit in the death, is unbearable.

Freedom of speech isn’t limited to wrestling with government regulations, but being able to have and to express an opinion in an environment charged with power. The power could be sourced from culture, history, money, trade, and resource-control. Freedom of speech is freedom of speech! Where will we go from here if something as simple as “Bong HiTS 4 Jesus” can’t be said?! Freedom of speech is crucial in any participatory democracy, because open discussions of candidates are essential for voters to make informed decisions during elections. It is through speech that people can influence their government's choice of policies.