Should freedom of speech be restricted and is protesting the best form it can take?


Protests have been dominating the news at the moment. From Hong Kong to the Sudan, from America to Westminster. Protesting has been on the front pages as people use their freedom of speech to stand up for what they believe in and make their voice heard.

It is a concept that all will know, and therefore does not require much of an introduction. However, there are some questions to be raised which we will be looking at.

The first is should those preaching hatred be allowed free speech? It seems to be a question raised often as we wonder is it worth letting people preach hatred on our streets due to people’s religion, colour or sexuality.

The second is whether or not protesting is the best way to make our voice heard? As we saw yesterday clashes between Remainers ad Brexiters broke out as the evening standard reported. Protesting can easily lead to violence and that can create a snowball effect for more hate speech and even in extreme circumstances civil war.

Written by Liberal writer, Max Anderson

Take a second, breathe, and let’s not let our emotions take control of the US – Liberal Article

With hate speech on the rise, restricting freedom of speech is an easy path to take to stop people spreading awful ideologies. However, the easy road is not always the right one. Liberals are adamant against any form of restricting freedom of speech. Restricting freedom of speech raises many ethical questions in the form of who and how a person’s voice is taken away, but it can lead to an abuse of power. Most importantly though, it means you’re taking them seriously.

Restricting one’s freedom of speech can easily silence a hate preacher on the street, but their message because of it will reach a much wider audience. Take the Westboro Baptist church. They received mass media coverage during the Snyder vs Phelps court case in 2011 after they protesting at the funeral of ‘Albert Snyder’s son, Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, was killed in the line of duty in Iraq in 2006’ blaming his death for the way modern America has evolved.

Caught in the eye of the media, by such journalists such as Louis Theroux, their reputation has grown significantly. To show the effect, even after Louis Theroux’s horrifying documentary, a man from ‘Bradford… Married into America’s most hated family.’ With their freedom of speech being called into question, it led to them being more determined, more fanatical and thrived under this scrutiny.

Hate preachers enjoy the attention and hatred you return to them. You and the media are taking them seriously – they feel important and powerful. Their freedom of speech shouldn’t be restricted, the attention they receive should be. 

I feel as I move onto protesting I can quote no one better than Martin Luther King. There is no one better to show that when you face hatred, hating them back, restricting and attacking them does not work. It only encourages them. If you show yourself as better, act as a better and don’t give them ammunition to use, then ‘there comes a time when people get tired of being pushed out of the glittering sunlight of life’s July and left standing amid the piercing chill of an alpine November.’

Leading onto protesting, I find myself worrying. The best quote I can provide for my feelings comes from the classic film Men in Black. As Tommy Lee Jones says ‘a person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.’

Everyone at some point would have been caught in a crowd. Maybe a football game, a carnival or even a political protest. It feels good, you feel part of something but that energy can grow to overtake your common sense. Your emotions can take control and you can easily lose the sight of peace and end in violence. Once this happens, it can be grown to extreme measures.

There have been several marches across Britain to stop Brexit and I give them my full support. However, if you look closer it has grown to one of hatred. The nation is splintering because of this energy and the hatred from all sides. Chantel Mouffe says Liberalism is killing voter’s interests as it takes the passion out of politics, however the return of this passion through protesting is killing the country!

Don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying that peaceful protesting is wrong or should not happen. I think it Is essential in some cases – Hong Kong proving as a perfect example. But as a Liberal; compromise, discussion and working out the best solution at the negotiating table is far more effective than letting passions grow through protests and then using that table to beat down the people you disagree with.

Written by Liberal Writer, Max Anderson

Point of Information

Ignoring the problem doesn’t make it go away – a Labour response

Mr Anderson puts together a convincing and nuanced argument – I agree that limiting freedom of speech can be extremely problematic. I do, however, disagree with his assertion that hate speech is best left alone. Yes, it would be fantastic if the population didn’t give hate preachers the attention they crave, but that is simply not a practical measure to reduce the impact of hate speech. As I argued in my article, once ‘freedom of speech’ is used to justify calling for harm to certain groups – be it on racial, gender, or religious lines – it creates a scenario in which oppression and discrimination flourishes.

I do agree that we should limit media attention of such people to limit their influence, but I believe the law should limit the capacity of these hateful individuals to spread incitements of violence and discrimination.

To move on to Mr Anderson’s argument about protest, I get the impression that he hasn’t fully thought through the implications of his opinion. It sounds as if he is against all forms of mass assembly in which emotions are high – perhaps the avid Arsenal supporter hasn’t considered where that would leave sports fans, whose crowds are often renowned for their violence.

That aside, I do believe that Mr Anderson has a point, when he proposes that ‘compromise and discussion’ are the way forward.  Of course, these measured approaches used by politicians are very effective. The issue I take with the suggestion, however, is that it implies MPs always represent the population. That is our parliamentary model, but in reality, our elected representatives do not consider the priorities and opinions of the people. Protest tends to be employed when citizens are frustrated that Parliament isn’t acting for them, hence it is an effective way to communicate with a Parliament which is  – on the whole – very unrepresentative, and sitting far away in the Westminster bubble.

Written by Labour Writer, Isabella Jewell

Apart from one generalisation, Mr Anderson is a good read – a Conservative response

This week I am very impressed with Mr Andersons article. He has made interesting points and has articulated his views well. I could not agree more with his point which uses Louis Theroux’s documentary as its reference. Mr Anderson refers to the quote “Their freedom of speech shouldn’t be restricted; the attention they receive should be.” This is such an excellent use of a brilliant quote and I hope we can all aim to achieve this. Don’t give hate the time of day when it doe not deserve it.  

I must though be critical on Mr Anderson’s generalisation over the issue of protesting. He makes a good point saying that protests can sometimes lead to extreme violence but, he makes out that we as protestors can’t control ourselves. A majority of protests are peaceful and Mr Anderson should not forget that. Furthermore, allowing oneself to become highly emotional does not necessarily mean serious violence. It can create beauty and joy to others. In Martin Luther Kings I have a dream speech we can see all kinds of emotions running through him. We must not shut out these powerful feelings.

Written by Conservative Writer, Jack Kane

Freedom of expression cannot be absolute; that is when it degrades the rights of others – Labour Article

In the wake of mass protests in the UK following Johnson’s proroguing of Parliament, this week’s question is certainly topical. Crowds amassed in cities all over the UK to call for Johnson to reverse his decision; they labelled it a coup, they held placards attacking Johnson’s character, and there were tense exchanges with a smaller pro-Boris protest.

The protests were huge but remained peaceful. Ultimately, they succeeded in drawing attention to Johnson’s actions; one of the aims of any protest. However, this order and lack of escalation is not always the case during mass rallies, as someone living in France, I have witnessed a more unruly style of protest.

On the way to work every morning, I pass a McDonalds whose windows are so damaged, the building looks like it’s being held together by gaffa tape; following further research I discovered that it was the Gilet Jaunes who had smashed up the fast food store. This destruction would happen at every protest, so the owners decided to stop replacing the windows as they would only be smashed at the next rally. It is also not uncommon to hear of violent clashes between opposing protesters and the police, as seen at the Tommy Robison protests in London in August.  

My opinion on freedom of speech is nuanced; I believe in its status as a fundamental human right – as protected by article 10 of the Human Rights Act – but, I do not believe the right is absolute. When speech is used to infringe on the rights of others, that is the point where it should be limited. I am not at all in favour of an American-style system, whereby even incitements of racial hatred are considered a part of the untouchable right to ‘freedom of speech’.

The current law in the UK protects freedom of speech and expression, but sets some clear boundaries; if one publishes or makes comments that are inciting hatred or harm to another person or group, then one has committed a ‘hate crime’. To me, those who espouse that freedom of speech should not be limited at all do not understand this argument; if one intends harm against another, you are placing your right to free speech above their rights to safety, it renders society less free.

A friend once gave me the perfect analogy to illustrate this point. Imagine if everyone in the world held a cardboard box to represent their freedom, the box can grow until there is no longer space to enlarge without making someone else’s box smaller; that is how our laws should govern freedom of speech, by granting as much liberty as possible, up until the moment it impedes someone else’s.

I would also apply this principle to protest rights. I fully support a person’s right to manifest, occupy, and march in the streets, however, this right should reach its limits when a protest becomes violent, or uses messages that incite hateful acts.

Protests are a great way to raise awareness of an issue and to place pressure upon those in power to enact change, a historic example is the Montgomery Bus Boycott in the US which led to the outlawing of racial segregation in the late 1950s. Equally, the recent Extinction Rebellion protests have received much media attention, causing many people to reconsider their behaviours and whether they can act in a more environmentally friendly manner.

Overall, I am a firm believer in freedom of expression, it is after all an essential aspect of a democracy. As such, I support all peaceful manifestations of one’s opinion, be it through writing, protest, or art… Language and opinion should not be policed or limited – that is when democracy begins to collapse, but incitements of violence and discriminatory acts is the line in the sand that I will not cross.

Written by Labour Writer, Isabella Jewell

Point of Information

Does peaceful protesting work? Not right now it doesn’t – a Conservative response

Again my colleague has written an interesting article and it is lovely to see her perspective especially from just across the Channel. If you did not know anything about freedom of speech, then this a great article. Her analogy of the cardboard box is a wonderful one and I hope we can all use it when dealing with others.

However, I have to be critical over her love of protesting. I just do not agree that in the UK big protests can actually lead to substantive change especially peaceful ones. Protests on the issue of the Iraq war, Brexit, proroguing Parliament and climate change with extinction rebellion have not worked. We went to war in Iraq, Brexit will eventually happen, Parliament will be prorogued due to it not being unconstitutional and the three key demands issued by Extinction rebellion have not be accepted. Clearly not a good track record.

Yet the more violent protests in France and Hong Kong have worked. President Macron has caved on certain issues as well the withdrawal bill in Hong Kong being removed. Very concerning times indeed for peaceful protesting.

Written by Conservative Writer, Jack Kane

It’s very well saying we should all sit around the campfire singing cumbia but we need to wake up to the real world! – a Liberal response

Miss Jewell’s article this week has a simple yet effective message – be free to express what you think is right as long as you are not oppressing others. A lesson all of us should live by. However, this is the same lesson we teach children in school, and life is far more complicated than nap time, we need to wake up.

Protesting is a deep concern for me. A crowd can be led very easily by the charisma of its leader. It can also follow the wrong path, take the wrong action and blame the wrong people. Fake information can spread so quickly through protests just as it does with social media. It can create radicals in seconds and at that moment there is no turning back.

Anti-Trump protests started what seem like a life time ago, but from these peaceful protests have grown extremist anti-fascist groups destroying MacDonald’s, Starbucks – preaching against hatred while hating anyone who doesn’t agree with them.

Politics is and always will be, us against them as Chantell Mouffe says. Liberals vs Labour, Labour vs conservative, the list is endless. All of us fighting to hold power for a small amount of time.

The problem is, protesting takes this us against them and turns it into pure hatred, where one would rather remove democracy to stop their enemy taking power.

Miss Jewell, you must realise that protesting itself can lead to the removal of freedom of speech. I would never condone those who protest peacefully, but please keep in mind it is a breeding ground of collateral damage and hatred to ensue.

Written by Liberal Writer, Max Anderson

For a man who cannot speak, we can all learn something about free speech from Mr Bean – Conservative Article

Whilst Boris Johnson was running the Foreign Office he wrote in an article for the Daily Telegraph that “if a female student turned up at school or at a university lecture looking like a bank robber,” he would ask her to remove her burqa to speak to her. This comment ignited condemnation from multiple parties and groups called for an apology from the Foreign secretary, to which he did not give. Yet in his hour of need and unlikely hero came to his rescue, Mr Bean. Rowan Atkinson wrote that on the topic of religion, “All jokes about religion cause offence, so it’s pointless apologising for them.” Therefore, I ask the question should we simply restrict ourselves by not saying anything?

In the age of instant messaging, twittering and nasty comment sections under articles, it has never been easier to write hateful speech towards each other. There are too many examples of people of faith being insulted due to an item of clothing they wear or insulted just due to their religion and therefore, it is no surprise that many are offended and rightly so. So I ask the question, should we restrict ourselves? Boycotts of social media platforms where hate is being spread could help reduce the amount of hate online. Although this is all hypothetical, I feel that we should all think about the idea of reigning ourselves in. In our lives we have all said silly things and sometimes our comments have caused offence. Therefore, I feel that we should all go by the mantra, if you haven’t got anything good to say then don’t say anything.

With my hypothetical question out of the way there is one medium of politics which I feel should be restricted and that is the use of referendums. There are clear and good arguments for having referendums. It allows the people to enhance their democratic right of voting as well as engaging voters who aren’t always as interested in politics.

However, with us still going through the aftermath of the EU referendum it is vital that we do not allow referendums again. The points I will now make do restrict the voice of the people slightly however, in the long run it is the right thing to do. On big issues we must make our elected officials make tough decisions on behalf of us. The majority of officials have had a better education resulting in degrees from top British universities. With all the necessary resources at their disposal they may take charge over decisions. Representative democracy means that we elect representatives to make decisions for us. So, if we get rid of their get out jail free card, maybe, and just maybe, we will start seeing politicians make the important decisions for us and not for there own re-election.

On the issue of protesting it is clear that it does not work. Protests on the issues of the Iraq war, Brexit, and Extinction Rebellion have not worked. Politicians are not swayed by large groups of people anymore. It is time for more people to be using petitions. This is a direct way to get MPs attentions by forcing them to debate issues that have popular support. This the new way of protesting.  

Written by Conservative Writer, Jack Kane

Point of Information

Taking notes from Mr Bean? Who is more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him? – a Liberal response

I am shocked by Mr Kane this week. He has actually managed to write something I can support in some places. I never thought I would see the day. It is unfortunate that there are too many parts of this article that has me banging my head against the table.

His belief that referendums should be restricted is one that I agree with. I do worry at the moment for the nation with the impact of campaign companies such as Cambridge Analytica.

His belief to allow representative democracy take its lead and allow MPs who will know far more than the average citizen simply because it is their job to know is a point I must again agree with Mr Kane. However, although Rowen Atkinson is an amazing actor and a student of Oxbridge, to then quote him and not an elected member seems even more hypocritical of you.

To continue talking about things being hypocritical, I think your response to such comments as Mr Johnson’s is worrying. Jokes are all well and good, but they can lead to them being taken seriously. As all thespians know Mr Kane, comedy is based on truth and although we should take them with a pinch of salt, we should certainly not ignore them. I would like to remind you jokes where the first use of propaganda used by Geobbels in Nazi Germany against Jews. I think Mr Kane’s love for a good joke is slowly turning himself into the butt of it.

Written by Liberal Writer, Max Anderson

There’s a difference between criticism of an institution and the incitement of hate – a Labour response

I was appalled upon hearing of Boris Johnson’s description of women who wear burkas. The commentary was dehumanising, unacceptable, and worrying to hear from someone in power with public influence. I do, however, agree with Mr Kane that criminalising comedy is a slippery slope; as institutions, all religions should be open to criticism just as political parties and private corporations are. The legal limit should be when comments provoke discrimination, hateful acts, or violence. My view of Johnson’s use of language is, therefore, hard to articulate. The fact that he is in a position of influence, in my opinion, makes his comments worse, as he could potentially inspire hatred and dehumanisation of Muslim women… I am thus inclined to label it hate speech.

On the subject of protest, Mr Kane argues that ‘it is clear that [protesting] does not work’; this sweeping statement I find somewhat controversial, as he proceeded to give absolutely no evidence to back this opinion. He listed a few protests that he deemed ineffective, but it’s easy to cherry pick. In addition, the labelling of Extinction Rebellion as a group which has had no impact I find astonishing – it was after years of their work and protest that the UK Government finally declared a climate emergency.  It is also problematic to view ‘success’ as something only defined by legislative change; protests such as the anti-climate change movement have brought an important issue to the public eye, causing changes in individual behaviours – an extremely important step towards saving the planet.

Written by Labour Writer, Isabella Jewell

Max Anderson
Publisher/Founder at Point Of Information | Website

I am currently in my second year of reading Politics at the University of Exeter. My first interaction with politics was at the tender age of four years old.

Jack Kane
Conservative political writer at Point Of Information | Website

Hello, my name is Jack Kane and I am third year undergraduate at the University of Exeter. I am a studying Politics and will graduate Exeter in the summer of 2020. I have been interested and engaged in Politics since a very young age.

Isabella Jewell
Labour political writer at Point Of Information | Website

I have just finished my second year at The University of Manchester studying French and Italian and am about to leave the Northern Powerhouse for a year abroad.

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