Freedom of Expression Essay

Example #1

What is art? Can it be defined in any single painting or sculpture? Is it even something that can be seen, or does it have to be experienced? The term “art” is so vague that it can be applied to almost anything, really. Mostly, however, art should be that which frees our imagination. It connects our consciousness with our subconscious, putting into a visual form what we feel and think. It allows us to explore our inner selves and fill that urge to understand our minds and our universe.

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Art helps us to see beyond the ordinary, to see what is in our hearts without being blinded by reality. When an artist creates a painting, it is not to create a picture; it is to create a feeling or mood. The purpose is to convey an emotion, and, it is hoped, to make the viewer experience that same emotion. The painting is really just the final result. Picasso once said “?the thing that counts, in painting, is the intention of the artist? What counts is what one wants to do, and not what one does? In the end, what was important is the intention one had.”

So, what happens when artists are judged only on their final result, with no consideration for the purpose of their artwork? Censorship happens. That’s right, every day in America, “Land of the Free”, another artist falls victim to The Censor. Every day, despite rights guaranteed by the constitution, people are being oppressed-by school officials, librarians, committee chairpersons, and even by those in government positions. It’s time everyone, everywhere, stood up for Freedom of Expression and put an end to censorship.

In September of this year, the Brooklyn Museum of Art planned an exhibit of British artwork entitled “Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection”, the controversial art exhibit which, on it’s a world tour, has been shown in Germany and England. The exhibit, as well as the majority of other artwork on display in the museum, was to be funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.

The NEA is a government agency that grants federal money to artists and organizations in an attempt to serve the public good by “nurturing the expression of human creativity, supporting the cultivation of community spirit, and fostering the recognition and appreciation of the excellence and diversity of our nation’s artistic accomplishments”. The organization was prepared to share part of its 98,000 dollars of appropriated funds, until several weeks before the exhibit was to open. At that time, Mayor Rudolph Guiliani, after having viewed the exhibit, threatened to withdraw city financial support to the museum.

The Mayor labeled the exhibit “sick” and “offensive to Catholics”, and made no secret that his objections were based on his personal dislike of the contents of the show. He criticized the work of Chris Ofili, specifically a painting called The Holy Virgin Mary, because of its use of elephant dung. Ofili, a British artist of Nigerian descent, uses elephant dung in many of his works as a reference to his African roots. As an observant Catholic himself, he denies that his work is either anti-Catholic or anti-religious. He meant the dung to be a symbol of life and providence, however, this simple explanation was not enough to satisfy Guiliani. His threats to withdraw funding stood firm.

Ofili told the New York Times, “The people who are attacking this painting are attacking their own interpretation, not mine.” Damien Hirst, whose display was also part of the show, said that the mayor “may as well say, ‘I only like Picasso and if you don’t show it then I’m going to cut your funding.’ It’s just pure censorship.” He may be right, and the Brooklyn Museum of Art sued the city on September 28th, protesting the mayor’s threat to freeze millions of dollars in funds.

To the relief of museum officials and art lovers across the country, the courts ruled on November 1st in favor of the Brooklyn Museum of Art and against New York City and Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. Even those who privately disliked “Sensation” and the way it was handled by the Brooklyn Museum couldn’t help but feel that their own fates had been on the line, too.

Their interpretation of the First Amendment was at stake, which lets a public museum show work without fear of financial retribution if someone in the government finds the work offensive. The ruling was a narrow victory in the fight against censorship, and it is neither the first nor the last.

There are some that still believe that “the city” has a right to choose what artwork to fund. “People can do what they want to do and they can draw what they want to draw,” but, Senator Bob Smith said, “the government doesn’t have to fund this garbage.” He is not alone in his opinion.

New York City official Michael D. Hess sent several letters to the museum’s director, Arnold L. Lehman, warning that the museum “cannot proceed with the exhibit as planned,” and threatened to not only cut funding for the museum but also warned the museum that it would lose it’s lease if the exhibit was opened as planned.

He agreed with Mayor Giuliani’s statement that “where it comes to Catholic bashing, this kind of thing is never treated as sensitively as it sometimes is in other areas. If this were a desecration of a symbol in another area, I think there would be more sensitivity about this than a desecration of a symbol that involves Catholics.” Much of the opposition was based on the idea that if the mayor’s action, was in the best interest of the city.

The mayor’s action displayed his lack of respect for the First Amendment rights of the residents of New York, and also his disdain for the reputation of New York City as a world-class center of art and culture. “The entire arts community should be grateful to Director Arnold Lehman and the BMA’s Board of Directors for standing firm on the right of artists and museum-goers to make their own decisions without interference from the government,” said Joan Bertin, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Censorship. “If the city chooses to fund the arts, it simply cannot pick and choose what art is ‘offensive’ and what is not.”

In addition, “That judgment varies so widely and is so subjective that, if it were the test, publicly funded art institutions would likely have little of interest to offer beyond the most inoffensive and conventional art,” Michelle Coffy, Program Director of the National Campaign for Freedom of Expression, says.

It is not appropriate to censor something based solely on a failure to understand and a personal dislike. In this case, the mayor and other critics may simply be revealing their own misinterpretation of the varied cultural and artistic traditions on which artists draw, having obviously misunderstood the whole point of art in the first place-expression.

 

Example #2

Freedom of expression refers to the right to express one’s opinions or thoughts freely by utilizing any of the different modes of communication available. The ideas aired should, however, not cause any intentional harm to other personality or status through false or ambiguous statements. Communication of ideas can be achieved through speech, writing or art. Freedom of expression, unlike freedom of thought, maybe regulated by the appropriate authorities in any society in order to avoid controversies between different individuals.

The extent to which this limitation or censorship is done varies from nation to nation and is dependent on the government of the day. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, every individual has the right to search for information, access, and impart a variety of ideas irrespective of the frontiers.

The subject of freedom of expression has always been controversial, especially when considering political aspects. A state is perceived to have the mandate to impede people from convening groups in which they air their opinions if those views can result in direct harm to other people.

However, the interference would only be an exception if doing so results in more beneficial outcomes than standing aside. For one to be in a position to gauge the eventuality of a gain or a loss, then there should be absolute freedom of expression on all matters irrespective of the nature of the sentiments made.

Arguments for absolute freedom of expression can be made by evaluating the purpose for which the ideas are expressed and the manner in which we evaluate what is true or false. According to Mill (Eisenach, 2004), the right to express one’s opinions offers humanity a rare chance to switch over an error for the truth if the idea expressed happens to be true.

In case the opinion happens to be wrong, mankind stands a chance of getting a clearer picture of the known truth through collusion with a mistake. Therefore, freedom of expression acts in the best interests of mankind as it endeavors to progress and its limitation deprives people of the prospects of growth.

Whether we let the expression of an opinion to be limited or censored, whereas it could be true, then we present ourselves as beyond reproach. We consider all that we know to be the truth and therefore dispel all opinions that question this truth. It is possible for people or authorities to be in fault. For instance, what we consider to be morally right or wrong may not be so.

The lines that define moral rights and wrongs were set by people who could possibly have mistaken. In order to draw the limit, one must differentiate between sureness and the truth. Our certainty that a particular idea is false does not in any way excuse its expression. Suppressing such an idea would not only justify our confidence in the opinion being wrong but also proves that we are flawless.

If the limitation of people’s freedom of expression in matters such as racism is based on the certainty that mankind does not stand to lose any benefit, then this sureness should be founded in the freedom itself. We can only consider ourselves to be certain when there have been no opinions raised to question the truths we hold. Therefore, in order to boost our certainty, we have to leave room for opposing beliefs.

There are governments that censor the expression of certain ideas not because they are false, but because they are considered to be hazardous to society. Mill argues that in such a situation, the hazard in the expressed opinions is questionable. The only way to ascertain that the opinion is in fact dangerous is not to suppress its expression but to allow its free discussion.

Secondly, if the opinion that is being limited is true, then the alternative view held by the government must be false. Experience has shown that all beliefs that are false are never constructive in the long run. Therefore, the government that prefers to hold a false conviction in place of a hazardous truth does not act in the best interests of its people.

In many instances, the silenced view may be a mistake. However, most of these mistakes do carry with them a scrap of truth. On the other hand, the existing view on each of the different topics often does not contain the entire truth. By listening to the opinions of others on the matter, an opportunity to learn the rest of the uncovered truths presents itself.

For instance in politics, we could have two political parties with different agendas. One wants to institute reforms while another desires to ensure stability. People may not be in a position to discern what should be retained or altered, but ensuring the parties at opposing ends ensures each party checks on the performance of the other. In the long run, we strike for a beneficial balance between their supposed agendas (Bhargava, 2008).

Moreover, if the opinion being expressed is entirely true, it may not be considered so with certainty. For confidence to feature, these views must be contested against other rational opinions of others in order to single out the supporting arguments. It is expected that those who believe in their opinions will place strong arguments in their favor (Matravers, 2001).

If an authority believes in the rationality of its ideas, then it should leave room for the expression of opposing ideas. For instance, if any reigning political party has faith in the views it has concerning the development of the country’s economy, it should not be wary of an opposition party with contradicting views. After all that they stand for has factual backing (O’Rourke, 2001).

Lastly, the battle for supremacy between different opinions opens up a more comprehensive understanding of our beliefs. We begin to comprehend what is required of us and are, thus, in a position to act on them. Human beliefs do not exhibit any motivation and the debates that arise are what add fuel to the fire.

Holding beliefs with a conservative mindset only serves to hinder our acceptance of the possible alternatives (Jones, 2001). Therefore, opposition exhibited in the freedom of speech opens up a leeway for open-mindedness besides posing a challenge to hypocrisy and logical sluggishness.

The absence of restrictions on people’s freedom of oppression allows for the exchange of error for truth or the clarification of the existing truth. It also reinforces our certainty in the opinions we consider true besides increasing our open-mindedness and thoughtfulness. For governments, it ensures those entrusted with the leadership of the country have reasonable opinions that work for the common good of the country’s citizens.

Free discussion and analysis of different ideas will, thus, result in the prosperity of mankind rather than the detrimental effects it is assumed to bring.

 

Example #3 – The War of Freedom of Expression

“Taking on anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers in the sanctified courtroom environment is like responding to someone who calls your mother a prostitute. By defending you raise the question that maybe she really was”

Anonymous source drawn from Weiman and Win, 1986.

The right to freedom of expression can be described as a war. It is a war that has lasted for centuries and may last for centuries more. It is a war between freedom of expression and social intolerance. In this war there are many battles. The battle on which this brief essay centers itself is the battle between freedom of speech and laws limiting that freedom; more specifically the ability to spread hate propaganda and the “hate laws”. Included in the essay is a brief outline of one skirmish that has taken place (Keegstra ). Those who fight on the side supporting freedom of speech do so for several reasons. Braun declares that it is a basic democratic right to voice your own opinion.

Douglas Christie has gained notoriety for his vigorous representation of high- profile, controversial clients, charged under the hate laws. He advocates freedom of speech for two main reasons: a) he finds it abhorrent that the state can legislate thoughts and words, and b) he often agrees with the views held by his clients. Others such as Noam Chomsky, a brilliant intellectual, argue not for the views expressed, but the ability to express them. Lining up on the other side of the battle you have: Derek Raymaker, David Kilgour, Victor Ramraj, and Bruce Elman. They argue that there is definitely a moral place for laws regarding hate speech, whether they are criminal or not. There was recently a new development in the Canadian war for freedom of expression. Introduced in April 1982 was a new and important strategic battleground.

With the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the war could be won or lost by either side. It was not long before the Charter saw battle.

In 1984, Jim Keegstra was charged with violating section 281 of the Criminal Code of Canada (now covered under section 318-320). Keegstra was a respected school teacher and mayor of the small town of Eckville, Alberta. This was no borderline fanatic; this was an elected official charged with promoting hate. However, by the time Keegstra’s trial rolled around he was no longer the mayor Eckville and his teaching license, revoked.

The problem was the very nature of s. 281 lent itself to legal debate under section 2 of the relatively new Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The defense counsel Doug Christie lost no time in challenging the legislation’s constitutionality. In response, Crown prosecutor, Bruce Fraser, stated that Keegstra was being charged with promoting hatred; not expressing it. The Crown also stated that freedom of speech is not an absolute right .

On November 5, 1984, Mr. Justice Quigley of the Alberta Queen’s Bench wrote an eighty page decision upholding the constitutionality of section 281. In his decision he stated “It is my opinion that s. 281.2(2) cannot be rationally considered to be an infringement which limits ‘freedom of expression’ but on the contrary it is a safeguard which promotes it.”

When the issue finally rose to the Supreme Court of Canada, the advocates of hate laws had won a very shallow victory. The split of the court was 4-3, leaving uncertainty as to who had actually won. It is too subjective to view the problem of freedom of expression as “good” versus “evil”. The debate raises the main issue of whether or not the people of Canada want the government to be passing any laws limiting our rights to think and speak. While it is nearly unanimous that violently acting on these views is illegal; the debate on laws against the speech of any sort draws not only racists but simple liberals who believe in the freedom of speech.

Braun outlines the argument against any criminal limitations on freedom of speech. First, he states that one of the basic premises of democracy is: “A self-governing people that have the right and ability to decide for themselves whom to believe must surely have the right and ability to decide what to act on.” Another point made by Braun, in the same article, is that the right to legislate against words, even narrowly defined as words of ‘incitement’ “tends to erode the political process of talking and genuine debate.” Other such arguments rise up against the legitimacy of such hate laws.

Douglas Christie, in Zundel, declared that the right to a minority opinion was at stake. In his address to the jury, he asked “What have we lobotomized idiots, that we can only accept the viewpoint of the majority? …

Do we never entrench the right to differ?” Christie also compared Zundel to Galileo, who dared to pronounce that the world was round. He also stated:

“For the sake of freedom, I ask you never to forget what is at stake here. That accused stands in the place of anyone who desire to speak their mind. Even if you don’t agree with him, you must take it as a sacred responsibility not to allow the suppression of someone else’s honest opinion.”

Chomsky takes much the same road. Respected the world over is not necessarily Chomsky’s views, but his ability to express them and his understanding of the problems society faces. In a 1988 interview, Chomsky stated “…I wouldn’t like the government to have the power to decide what you can hear.” With respect to a French school teacher being tried for falsification of history he said,

“…. Now that means that the state has the right to decide what is historical truth, and if it decides “this is historical truth” and you say something else, you’re a criminal. In my view, that’s a fantastic scandal, I don’t care whether what the guy said is true, false, indifferent; I don’t even give a damn what he said. The idea of giving the state the right to decide what’s true, that’s just straight, flat-out fascism.”

Those who advocate the passing of “hate laws” such as sections 318 through 320 of the Criminal Code, also seem to be arguing from a largely moralistic standpoint. They also state that it is extremely difficult for the Crown to convict under the laws. Admittedly, yes it is, and that is the way it should be. Four proponents of these laws are Derek Raymaker, David Kilgour,

Victor Ramraj and Bruce Elman. They all put the forth different arguments, each contention with its own merits. Raymaker and Kilgour have stated that it is important to recognize that rights are never absolute. They also state that “Rights are given strength through the law, and therefore can be regulated through the law in reasonable circumstances as prescribed in s.1 of the Charter.” This is a difficult stance to take in a democratic and supposedly “free” society. Are rights given by the state, or are they fundamental rights that the state must simply uphold?

This is where the real difficulty lies. People in western democracies recognize the ability to speak freely as an inherent right, and not as one generously given to us by our elected officials. In defense of the Kilgour and Raymaker argument, they also state that “…freedom of expression cannot simply exist without a system of redress for those groups who feel besieged by the hatemonger’s message.”

This is important. However, it should not be handled by criminal law. This issue could be addressed in civil law and human rights legislation without imposing criminal sanctions on the “hatemongers”. Victor Ramraj refers to both Ronald Dworkin and Lord Devlon in his paper. Ramraj’s argument can be broken down into two main components; first, he argues that the “concept” put forth by the Charter as a whole was to promote equality and the rights of minority and besieged groups.

This is where positive and negative liberties enter the picture. The rights of minorities not to be condemned to listen to harmful messages and literature is positive liberty, while the ability for someone to orate or write these views is negative liberty.

This is a reasonable argument but is as limited as Kilgour’s and Raymaker’s. Although people may recognize the plight of minorities, that does not mean that we must condemn those responsible for spreading these views to criminal action. Ramraj’s second main argument is that there is very definitely a place for morals in the law. This view is very clearly expressed in Lord Devlon’s “Morality and the Criminal Law”. This argument is difficult to refute, after all this is itself a moral issue.

Finally, Bruce Elman represents the hard-line approach to the issue of limiting free speech. In his 1994 paper, he wrote, “Finally, there is important symbolic value in having a law prohibiting the dissemination of hate propaganda. Our society must make a clear statement as to the values which we deem of central importance…. we must be prepared to support these values with criminal sanctions if necessary.” He also states in the same essay that imposing a criminal sanction is less desirable than supporting these core values through human rights legislation or civil law.

There are multitudes of other arguments for either side of the war; those described in this essay seem to capture more of society than do others. As stated in the introduction, the war between freedom of expression and social intolerance may last for centuries. While the views discussed in this essay are not diametrically opposed, they are nowhere close to reaching a consensus. Those who advocate “hate laws” seem to be willing to negotiate; most agree that there is no need for criminal sanctions. Those that stand against any regulation of freedom of expression are steadfastly opposed to any sanctions, criminal or otherwise.

Before I was assigned this paper, I had never given much thought to this subject. Choosing on which side to fall, is not an easy decision to make. I have extremely high morals and principles. I detest racism in all its forms and see it as one of the three corroding elements plaguing our society (the other two are drugs, and the subjectification of women). While I wish that racists could be shot into outer space, I have to side with Chomsky on this debate. I agree that there is little place for government intervention in freedom of speech. This is not an all-encompassing view, of course; threats should be excluded, as well as words inciting harm. I would be willing to concede to civil law on the subject; so long as it was very carefully tailored.

My own feelings on the matter were best described by Justice McLachlin in her dissent in Keegstra: “The vile of hate propaganda is beyond doubt… The danger here is not so much that the legislation will deter those bent on promoting hatred… The danger is rather that the legislation may have a chilling effect on legitimate activities important to our society by subjecting innocent persons to constraints born out of fear for the criminal process.”

The split in that court decision has played an important factor in the continuation of the debate. Any given composition of the court may turn out a different decision. It will be interesting to see if the Supreme Court hears the issue again sometime in the near future. In my view, deciding the issue of freedom of speech does not necessarily matter, so long as we are debating it. If we are debating it that means that society recognizes the potential problems. As long as society recognizes the potential problems we will never be subject to the same conditions that led to the holocaust in World War Two Germany.

 

Example #4

The spirit of free speech and expression lies in the ability to think and obtain information from others from various sources like publication, media, public e-government, and disclosure, etc without the fear of retaliation, reckoning, and repression by the government and its agencies.

This freedom is contemplated as the first condition of liberty as it holds a preferred and crucial position in the hierarchy of liberty giving succor and protection to all other liberties. In a democracy, freedom of speech and expression provides roots for free discussions of contemporary issues and raise voices against atrocities by the government.

In the case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India[1], Bhagwati, J. opined that “Democracy is based essentially on free debate and open discussion, for that is the only corrective government action in a
democratic setup.

If democracy means the government of the people, by the people and for the people, it is obvious that every citizen must be entitled to participate in the democratic process and in order to enable him to intelligently exercise his right of making a choice, free and general discussion of public matters is absolutely essential.”

Article 19 (1) (a) is corresponding to Amendment 1 of the Constitution of the United States which states that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. And this right does not have any reasonable restriction unlike Article 19 (2) of the Indian Constitution.

 

Example #5

One activity that I enjoy doing in my spare time is playing music. I play the guitar and have been playing for nine years. I started off wanting to play when I went to a store and found a very inexpensive little thirty dollar guitar. I picked it up and started playing around with it in the store.

At this time I was eight years old. During this time of my life, I wasn’t really involved in any activities and really wasn’t that social among friends and other people. So I decided that it was time to change so I thought playing the guitar would be a good start. My birthday was coming up in a couple of weeks so I decided to ask for one as a gift.

On my ninth birthday I got that very same guitar I was playing within the store. I was so happy when I got it as if I knew that in the future it would be something I came to love. I started playing it and decided that I wanted to take some lessons to better my technique. Ever since then I have been taking lessons, reading music, and playing any song that comes to mind, that I would like to learn.

One reason I enjoy this activity is that it sets my mind at ease. If I come home from work, or come back from a long day at school, or am just generally in a bad mood, I can sit down and play a song and it will totally set me at ease. Just popping in a CD and listening to it can do the same, but when I make the music, it is so much better. Another reason I like playing music is just for the sheer fun and enjoyment I get out of it. This that is really exciting for me is learning a new song, learning a new scale, and the best is when you can write a song.

Something else that I love about music is being able to play in front of other people. When I invite some people over and they all sit around and listen to me play, that is enjoyable for me. Which brings me to another reason, this reason is that I love to show off any talents I may have, and I have to say that music is one of the best talents that I possess. I think that that is why I enjoy playing for other people so much, that and the fact that I can make somebody happy by playing them a song.

There are so many different ways one can write a song. They can put their emotion into it, or they may, however, be influenced by another person in their life and want to write a song about it. I, for instance, find it hard to express myself and talk to people, but I have figured out that through writing songs, I can express myself with no problem. When people come to understand me from songs that I have written it really makes me feel good.

This is the one thing that I enjoy doing in my spare time. Out of all the things that I do during my spare time, this is the one that takes priority overall. I am looking to go places with my music, as far out as it may seem, but I have been raised to follow my dreams and this is the dream in my life. That would be, to play my music for other people to let them know who I am. I hope by reading this that you have maybe learned something about me, and what kind of person I am.

One activity that I enjoy doing in my spare time is playing music. I play the guitar and have been playing for nine years. I started off wanting to play when I went to a store and found a very inexpensive little thirty dollar guitar. I picked it up and started playing around with it in the store.

At this time I was eight years old. During this time of my life, I wasn’t really involved in any activities and really wasn’t that social among friends and other people. So I decided that it was time to change so I thought playing the guitar would be a good start. My birthday was coming up in a couple of weeks so I decided to ask for one as a gift.

On my ninth birthday I got that very same guitar I was playing within the store. I was so happy when I got it as if I knew that in the future it would be something I came to love. I started playing it and decided that I wanted to take some lessons to better my technique. Ever since then I have been taking lessons, reading music, and playing any song that comes to mind, that I would like to learn.

One reason I enjoy this activity is that it sets my mind at ease. If I come home from work, or come back from a long day at school, or am just generally in a bad mood, I can sit down and play a song and it will totally set me at ease. Just popping in a CD and listening to it can do the same, but when I make the music, it is so much better. Another reason I like playing music is just for the sheer fun and enjoyment I get out of it. This that is really exciting for me is learning a new song, learning a new scale, and the best is when you can write a song.

Something else that I love about music is being able to play in front of other people. When I invite some people over and they all sit around and listen to me play, that is enjoyable for me. Which brings me to another reason, this reason is that I love to show off any talents I may have, and I have to say that music is one of the best talents that I possess. I think that that is why I enjoy playing for other people so much, that and the fact that I can make somebody happy by playing them a song.

There are so many different ways one can write a song. They can put their emotion into it, or they may, however, be influenced by another person in their life and want to write a song about it. I, for instance, find it hard to express myself and talk to people, but I have figured out that through writing songs, I can express myself with no problem. When people come to understand me from songs that I have written it really makes me feel good.

This is the one thing that I enjoy doing in my spare time. Out of all the things that I do during my spare time, this is the one that takes priority overall. I am looking to go places with my music, as far out as it may seem, but I have been raised to follow my dreams and this is the dream in my life. That would be, to play my music for other people to let them know who I am. I hope by reading this that you have maybe learned something about me, and what kind of person I am.

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