June 12, 2008

Free Speech: A Comparative Perspective

Category: Canada,Free Speech,Politics — Biella @ 4:00 pm

While free speech rights are valued and recognized in most liberal democracies, the degree and scope of these rights are by no means uniform. The United States, which has the most expansive free speech protections in the world, actually stands apart as this New York Times article on the subject makes clear.

The article covers familiar ground (at least for those who follow free speech debates) but it does so well and discusses an interesting case now unfolding in Canada, concerning a pretty inflammatory magazine article denouncing Islam. The magazine is currently under trial for violating provincial hate laws.


  1. It is indeed commendable that “Free Speech” is given so much support in the constitution of the USA.

    It is unfortunate that the same constitution does not apply to foreigners (“aliens”) who are resident in the USA. For example, for the last many years a former student of Purdue University has faced prosecution and loss of livelihood because he purportedly wrote a “hateful e-mail” regarding your current administration’s involvement in Iraq.

    Even had he been a citizen, it may not have helped as the current laws permit the USA government to revoke the grant of citizenship unde some circumstances.

    In the USA you may not get in trouble with the _law_ if you indulge in so-called “hate speech” but the society around you _can_ make your day-to-day survival next-to-impossible if they deem your speech as “hate speech”. Their freedom to do this is also protected. This is just a replacement of the rule of law by the rule of the mob.

    Comment by Kapil Hari Paranjape — June 12, 2008 @ 6:36 pm

  2. Anyone see the difference between free speech and consequence-free speech? While lots of places have more free speech than the USA, few if any offer consequence-free speech.

    By the way, that NY Times article is registration-required.

    Comment by MJ Ray — June 13, 2008 @ 1:45 am

  3. I hope to respond to these later but I need to run. I fixed the link to the permanent one, which hopefully won’t require registration.


    Comment by Biella — June 13, 2008 @ 2:04 am

  4. This article is only portraying the US view on the topic, it especially mixes up many important differences other systems have.
    Take for example Germany. That does not have “free speech”. What it has (and what you would translate free speech to, if you translate something) is “Meinungsfreiheit”, the freedom of opinion. Which is the right to have an option, the right to express it, and to not be forced to tell what it is.
    There are all other rights like freedom of press, freedom of science, freedom of art, which together are what Americans would call “freedom of speech”. But the subtile difference is that it limited to means, not in general. (Just as there is no gereral freedom to walk into other people homes, or to put sharp things on the street).
    So you do not have the right to say anything you like, but the right to express your opinion. But otherwise speaking is like any other action: Don’t stab people and do not claim things you know are not true in order to cause other people kill people. (Laws against diclaiming the holocaust are special in asserting you know that it is not true, which might look a bit strange, but otherwise you’d give everyone a public place to put all his propaganda and claimes of fake, while someone really believing this is just not thinkable outside of lunatic asylum.)

    Comment by brl — June 13, 2008 @ 4:13 am

  5. the article was certainly provocative.[for nyt, I use bugmenot which works 80% of the time]. If hate speech is not able to be spoken, assuming its not involved with an impending act of violence, then I will not know who are holocaust deniers, neo-nazis, or other kooks. It is only by making hate visible, that its awfulness can be shown to the public and the public can condemn it. But the article did mention some facts about population growth realities that I don’t think are incorrect. Fact are not hateful, people are.

    Comment by Kevin Mark — June 13, 2008 @ 2:02 pm

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