Limiting Freedom of Speech: Who Draws the Line?

By Matt Spivey and Jack Taylor

Deputy Politics Editors

Durham has recently been immersed in a heated debate tackling the murky realm of free speech. Following the firing of Angelos Sofocleous from the role of Assistant Editor at Critique (Durham Philosophy Society’s journal) and General Editor at The Bubble, a call for the drawing of a line where free speech becomes offensive – and whether there should be a line at all – has been fiercely debated.

The events at Critique this summer sparked a much larger issue at play; should opinions deemed to be offensive or inappropriate towards marginalised group be silenced, or is this a breach of an individual’s right to free speech?

“Free Speech requires that everyone feels safe in order to speak freely.”

The backlash against Sofocleous brings to light the sensitivity of modern debate. This shouldn’t necessarily be considered a negative; having a consideration for the plight of marginalised groups only enhances healthy modern debate. Their voices are heard and identities not devalued by those who do not represent or speak for them.

Current Editor-in-Chief of Critique, Sebastián Sánchez-Schilling has acknowledged that there is a larger debate surrounding free speech by which the platform an individual occupies must be considered within the debate:

“Anyone is free to say what they want, but freedom of speech does not entail that you’re entitled to any platform you want, or that people have to continue associating with you regardless of your views. Freedom of speech requires that everyone feel safe in order to be able to speak freely. If we are to include those who reject and undermine the basis of people’s identity then this will be violated, and we would cease to have free speech. This is because the capacity for some to speak freely would be lessened and thereby so would freedom of speech.”

Free speech is a valued and important part of debate; if we limit the extent to which someone can share their opinions, are we not just censoring their views?

A consideration of marginalised groups enhances healthy modern debate.

We should, however, look at how those in positions of power use their platforms. If someone shares their personal opinion via their platform (personal opinions that are perfectly reasonable to have), but that is detrimental to a marginalised group, we should consider them as the inconsiderate comments they are. They are not the expressions of someone taking part in a healthy debate that is being inclusive of all.

This leaves us at the point where this issue culminates: a modern debate concerned with sensitivity forces us to ask if it is better to have one singular voice removed from a public platform to enable inclusivity in debate, or whether this becomes a deliberate censoring of opinions and so a damaging imposed limitation upon ‘free’ speech.

Image: Pete Souza via Wikimedia Commons

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