09 Jul What does freedom of speech mean to you?
Martin Wright considers what constitutes free speech? What is the difference between freedom of speech and just being plain rude?
I cycled into Preston town centre last Monday. When I arrived at County Hall, which is right opposite the train station, I encountered a group of people who were exercising their rights to demonstrate against fracking.
On my way back, the demonstrators had spread across the road and whilst the police were doing all they could, there was, as you could imagine, some traffic congestion. I almost managed to get through when an elderly lady with a couple of children in a pushchair shouted at me, asking me to get of my bike and join in. I politely said that I was on a time constraint and so wouldn’t be able to, when she launched into me with a barrage of offensive language. Although it was a personal attack, what concerned me was that not only were her charges with her and fully aware of what she was saying, so were at least half a dozen other children.
What sort of message does this give our children and society? I agree that it was her right to express herself, although I would question her “right” to be openly rude.
Thankfully we live in a country where freedom of speech is our right, which basically means that we have the freedom to properly express our views without persecution for doing so. This entitles us to curse and swear and vocalise our views without threat of persecution if we so wish.
Although it is our right, I don’t believe we should be openly rude to people just because we can. Yes we are given the right to freedom of speech; however, we should also take responsibility of our freedom of thought before we open our mouths.
We often hear stories of people getting attacked on Facebook and Twitter with horrible results – some recipients of such abuse have even been pushed to suicide. We hear about celebrities and people in the media being told “I hope you die of cancer” simply for expressing their beliefs. The television presenter Sue Perkins recently received death threats because there was the outside chance that she may have been in the running to present Top Gear!
Speech is a vital part of our lives. To be able to express ourselves fluently and with passion is something we really should be grateful for, as so many countries forbid it.
Yes, swearing at people is freedom of speech. Threatening someone even when that person cannot see you or know who you are, is freedom of speech. I firmly believe that we should lead our children and society by example and teach others that being rude and obnoxious, although legally allowed, is not the way to grow as humans, or to display true freedom of thought.
If children live in an atmosphere where swearing is at a minimum and where they are encouraged to openly discuss their ideas and opinions, they will be well on the way to becoming rounded thoughtful individuals. By learning to think before we communicate, we also express our human rights of respect and tolerance leading the next generation by example to become a more evolved society as a whole.