Freedom of speech is the freedom that citizens are constitutionally granted by their country to allow the citizens to speak without limitations or censorship of what they say.
This freedom varies from country to country depending on levels of democracy and political situations. Freedom of speech is always advocated for and governments urged to constitutionally protect their citizens’ freedom of speech to enable people discuss issues that affect them.
There have also been views of negative effects of unmonitored freedom of speech calling for a balance between the freedom of speech and its limitations. This paper seeks to discuss freedom of speech. The paper will look at the human nature that necessitates speech and expression, freedom of speech as applied in different countries and limitations that freedom of speech faces.
The nature of human beings to coexist with one another and developments that have led to democratic government systems have made speech and interactions fundamental elements in every society.
Developments of government systems and establishment of democracies have played a role in enlisting the participation of citizens in government processes in order to uphold the already established democratic levels in societies. It is this need to retain or even further develop democratic systems that has in the past led to the fight for freedom of speech.
The same reason still plays an important role in ensuring that provisions of freedom of speech are correctly implemented to take care of the intentions that were originally considered during formulations of such policies that governs freedom of speech. The nature of human beings to interact and communicate with one another is another element that necessitates freedom of speech.
Economic, political and even social aspects of life require an ultimate decision regarding a course of action to be taken regarding any particular issue. Matters that affect a large mass of people such as politics and national economic matters have been regarded as public aspects that are determined collectively (Mediainst 1).
Citizens therefore find it necessary to participate in such discussions pertaining to these public issues with the aim of checking and putting to task leaders and representatives to ensure that the interest of the people are looked into. Interactive forums also help people to be informed on current and developing issues in a society.
Freedom of speech, therefore, allows for transfer of information that helps different category of people in decision making. Effective decisions regarding election of political leaders, management of business activities and even personal and family decisions depends on information.
Information about government economic policies and trends in a country will, for example, affect small scale business established in a given township. Freedom of speech and access to information is therefore critical to citizens in their daily lives (Mediainst 1).
Freedom of speech is an element that is occasionally protected by laws of various countries. In the United States, for example, freedom of speech is strictly protected by the country’s first amendment.
According to the first amendment, freedom of speech is protected from manipulation by selfish individuals such as politicians who could be in power and intend to undermine criticisms from the general public.
For this reason, the first amendment of the United States constitution provided protection of the freedom of speech from legislative institutions such as the congress. Freedom of speech has also been liberalized in the United States to include non verbal expressions, motions and symbols that includes dressing codes (Camp 1).
Xinyi Wang explained the elements of the United States’ first amendment, which clearly, or as one would think it does, expresses the sanctity of freedom of speech in the United States. The constitution expressly states that the congress is prohibited from making legislations that would touch on the freedom of speech.
The first amendment also included other elements that are related to freedom of speech such as issues pertaining to the press and the fact that Americans were allowed to converge and share opinions in a peaceful manner and to stand and question their government in case the citizens felt aggrieved by the government (Xinyi 1).
In its application, freedom of speech protects subjects from liability to whatever they say, provided that the subject statements uttered by an individual are under the protection of freedom of speech as provided by a particular country.
Freedom of speech enjoyed by legislators in their course of legislation for example protects them from any liability emanating from anything that the legislatures say while in their legislative process.
The constitution of Canada for example provides that “no legislative councilor or member of the legislative assembly shall be liable to any action, arrest, or imprisonment, or damages” (Canadian constitution 69) as long as subject commission were undertaken in a process of conducting legislative duties in the premises for such duties (Canadian constitution 69).
In Britain, legislatures are only protected from speech uttered in their process of legislation. A similar application of the freedom of speech is applicable to other citizens.
Provisions are made by constitutions in different countries regarding freedoms that citizens are accorded with regard to speech and measures are then taken to ensure that subject to constitutional provisions, no citizens are held liable to any utterance that is made within constitutional provisions of freedom of speech (Canadian constitution 69).
Even though freedom of speech is expressly stated in a number of countries’ constitutions, and provisions made that freedom of speech shall be utterly protected by constitutions, a review of application of law by judicial systems reveals that constitutional provisions of freedom of speech have under certain circumstances been overridden by other factors.
When freedom of speech is not applicable, for whatever legal reason, then it means that constitutional provisions on the freedom have limitations with respect to interpretation and application. In the United States, for example, matters such as: “national security, justice or personal safety-overrides freedom of speech” (Freedomforum 1).
This means that an individual’s freedom of speech will be overlooked if any or all of these three issues are involved. A person whose speech threatens such issues like national security or infringes rights of other citizens might not be protected by freedom of speech.
The judicial system in the United States has, for example, established over time that utterances that: poses a threat to causing danger or violence, undermine “social value” and “conflict with other legitimate social or government interests” (Freedomforum 1) are not protected by freedom of speech (Freedomforum 1).
Limitations in the freedom of speech are also propagated by international bodies such as the United Nations. According to the United Nations resolution in its 1948 general assembly, it was agreed upon that as much as people had to be accorded freedom of expression, countries and states were not prevented from establishing measures that can possibly regulate parties in their process of disseminating information.
It was resolved that freedom of speech and freedom of expression calls for a level of responsibility on the parts of citizens and entities and thus governments were not restricted by the resolution from “requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises” (Whitmore 1).
The resolution at the United Nations assembly also stated that freedom of speech was subjected matters that are fundamental to “democratic society, interest of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for protection of health or morals” (Whitmore 1) among other factors.
This resolution thus recognizes territorial sovereignty in legislations that limits freedom of speech of an individual when it is considered to undermine sensitive public issues (Whitmore 1).
There are a number of limitations which have been imposed on freedom of speech within the United States. Obscenity has, for example, been expressly excluded from freedom of speech by the judicial system of the United States.
Other limitations on freedom of speech and press in the United States include “child pornography, defamation, speech harmful to children, compelled speech” (Cohen 26) among others. The need for limitation of freedom of speech is also expressed by Sadurski Wojciech in an argument that “self fulfillment” should be accompanied by self-control (Sadurski 18).
Freedom of speech is considered to bring satisfaction to individuals and for this reason, people must ensure that their freedom does not harm the fulfillment that other people wants to enjoy. Limitations are therefore necessary to ensure that every citizen enjoys his or her freedom (Sadurski 18).
Freedom of speech is important in a democratic nation and is internationally recognized and advocated for. It has been entrenched in a number of national constitutions and over time enhanced due to movements of human rights activists.
The provision and protection of freedom of speech by national constitutions is however at the same time limited by the same constitutions subject to rights of other citizens and national interests.
Camp, Julie. Freedom of expression. California State University, 2005. Web. April 17, 2011.
Canadian constitution. The Canadian constitution. Canada: UAP archive, n.d. Print.
Cohen, Henry. Freedom of speech and press: exceptions to the first amendment. FAS, 2009. Web. April 17, 2011.
Freedomforum. Education for freedom. Freedom Forum, n.d. Web. April 17, 2011.
Mediainst. Importance of freedom of speech. Medianst, n.d. Web. April 17, 2011.
Sadurski, Wojciech. Freedom of speech and its limits. New York, NY: Springer, 2001. Print.
Whitmore Marc. Freedom of speech, restrictions on. Idebate Organization, 2009. Web. April 17, 2011.
Xinyi, Wang. Freedom of speech in the United States constitution. Perspectives, n.d. Web. April 17, 2011.