Freedom of expression, at some level, symbolizes life itself. When we regulate and control, free speech is no longer free. Instead, it becomes tempered by fear of authority and ceases to be a right. This is how it is in India today. The topic of free speech raises a lot of questions, some more pertinent than others given that India is a multicultural, religious society.
- How much free speech should be allowed by law?
- Should there be legal bounds on free speech?
- Should hate speech be made unlawful?
- What constitutes offensive or hate speech? Who decides what is offensive or hurtful?
- Who should have free speech? Individuals? Corporations? Religious leaders? Media?
- What constitutes fair penalties for violations?
- Is it possible to define laws tightly that they will not be abused?
None of these questions can be easily answered. Which is why free speech is such a hard thing to regulate.
Here’s my take. In the conflict between free speech and morality, the former always should prevail. And exceptions should be made only when a person’s freedom of expression is violated in a manner that can be proven beyond reasonable doubt. In my book, anything goes. Well, nearly everything with the following exceptions:
- Sedition. This goes against the grain of an organized society.
- Copying intellectual property is laziness. It’s not free speech. It violates the original author’s free speech rights.
- A call to violence (which is proven to incite murder) is not free speech. It’s intent to commit homicide.
- Making false claims is not free speech. You cannot lie to sell products.
Everything else is free speech. Like the following examples -
- Hate speech is distasteful, but cannot be outlawed. If you don’t like what you hear, feel free to tune out.
- Religious conversion and evangelism should be allowed under free speech laws. If you don’t like people being converted, that’s too bad. You’ll just have to learn to live with it.
- Media should receive special protection under free speech laws. The bar should be set high on slander and libel cases.
- Pornography is free speech too. Child pornography should be illegal as it violates the free speech rights of minors.
- Rap songs which have explicit or misogynist lyrics are made by jackasses. So, don’t buy them. Don’t outlaw them.
And so it goes. Each new social phenomenon will make us wonder about how much freedom an individual deserves. The answer as always should be, “all of it.”
Where do you stand on free speech? Take the poll!