Since it’s topical at the moment I think that I may as well give my tuppence worth. I believe that the maximum amount of freedoms ought to be given to the maximum amount of people, and this is quite different from unchecked freedom for all. Our democracy doesn’t function well and so it makes for a poor example, but a good democracy depends on a number of rights and freedoms. The freedom of speech and expression is one of these many freedoms and rights. So the right to speak freely is important, but it functions among other – often competing – rights.
We have the right to belong to cultural and religious communities without the fear of harassment, and so too do we have the right to peace and security without the fear of victimisation or oppression. It is contradictory to claim that we can all have all of these rights when the free exercise of one person’s rights takes from another their own rights. Every peaceful society therefore must be built upon a balance of freedoms and limitations, ordered well for the common good. Anywhere where there exists an unassailable right to speak without limitation there will be disrespect, insult and discord.
We make a terrible mistake when we deliberately offend others by our words and actions. A person would have to be incredibly stupid to be unaware of the potential for tremendous violence in human beings. Every single person has her or his own limits, and under the right conditions people can become violent and even murderous. Causing insult to others can and does have terrible consequences.
Balancing rights and freedoms with certain limitations for respect and decency is a simple matter of common sense – extending to the most the most freedoms. Our objective is to create a world where there is more peace and less need for security. Peace can only be built when we are prepared to respect other people, because we all have things that we hold dear and sacred. This does not mean that bad things cannot be challenged. In fact it means the opposite. It means that society can place limitations on things that are clearly to the harm of the common good, and this means limiting some rights.