Skip to content
ADF International and Päivi Räsänen at the appeals court 2023

Why freedom of speech is worth protecting

For many of us in the West, the right to freedom of speech is protected by our nation’s laws. Despite rising self-censorship and civil calls for wider censorship in our societies, this right remains fundamental.

State-driven censorship fuels cancel culture and a climate of fear.

Alliance Defending Freedom International defends freedom of speech in three major ways:

  • We challenge government-enforced speech restrictions such as blasphemy laws and “hate speech” laws
  • We seek to undergird protections in international law to better protect freedom of speech
  • We highlight viewpoint discrimination, ensuring Christian voices are not silenced

This short survey helps us better understand how you feel about free speech.

Why is free speech fundamental?

Your freedom to speak is something you have by virtue of the fact that you are a human person – it isn’t something given to you by any government. Therefore, it cannot be taken away.

Legal traditions in Europe and North America recognise this because our common law is designed to respect fundamental freedoms, unless there is good reason to interfere. Your right to free speech is evident through lack of legal restriction.

And in international law, recognises your basic human right to freedom of speech.

Simply put, free speech is the foundation of every free and democratic society.

freedom of speech is fundamental to a free and democratic society

Challenging government-enforced speech restrictions

We combat the spread of so-called “hate speech” laws and blasphemy laws through our global alliance of lawyers.

The increasing spread of speech criminalisation is becoming more prominent, particularly in Europe. Soon, “hate speech” could be an EU-wide criminal offence. The European Commission recently adopted a communication aiming to add “hate speech” to the list of “EU crimes” in the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, Article 83(1).

If unanimously approved, “hate speech” crimes will be on the list with terrorism, drug trafficking, trafficking of human beings, and other egregious crimes. The European Commission has failed to give a clear definition of this new possible Eurocrime, but says that “hate is hate”.

Such a law would violate Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which explicitly protects one’s freedom of expressing offensive ideas: “…not only to ‘information’ or ‘ideas’ that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population.”

Once the state starts censoring “unpopular” speech, there is no logical stopping point.

Criminal law is predicated upon an objective and evidence-based assessment of culpability and harm relating to specific offending behaviour.

Criminal frameworks rely upon unambiguous and predictable statutory definitions – in the interests of citizens and law enforcers alike. This doesn’t work when you start applying criminal law to peaceful speech.

The story of Finnish parliamentarian Päivi Räsänen demonstrates just how far a prosecution team is willing to go to silence and criminalise so-called ‘hate speech’.

Outside of the West, 79 countries have blasphemy laws. In seven of these countries (Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) violations of blasphemy laws can carry the death penalty, and are often leveraged to target minority faith groups, especially Christians.

We seek to overturn blasphemy laws that punish individuals for speech that others find offensive.

Reforming national and international law

In 2023, UK parliament passed the first ‘thoughtcrime’ in modern British history into law. By rolling out nationwide censorship zones around abortion facilities, the new Public Order Bill prohibits any form of ‘influence,’ including silent prayer and consensual conversations, within a 150-meter radius of abortion clinics in England and Wales.

We successfully supported the defence of Fr Sean Gough (who held a sign that read ‘praying for free speech’ within a “buffer zone”), and we are continuing to stand by Isabel Vaughan-Spruce as she awaits potential further charges for praying silently. The right to think freely, and pray in public must be upheld.

Elsewhere in the UK, we advocated for the successful passing of three protections in the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill which:

  • Ensure universities uphold their legal duties to protect free speech, withholding taxpayer funding if they fail.
  • Require Office for Students to monitor free speech on campus, provide direct support for those with violated rights, and report annual findings.
  • Ensure that where student bodies are registered charities, they comply with the law
Free speech on campus

This bill pushes back against censorship and ‘no-platforming’ and secures free expression for Students’ Union members and visiting speakers.

In Nigeria, Yahaya Sharif-Aminu faces the death penalty for the ‘crime’ of sharing song lyrics. The lyrics contained reverence to a specific Imam in Sufi Islam. A mob accused Yahaya on the WhatsApp chat of blasphemy for allegedly placing the Imam above the prophet Muhammad. His house was burned down, and the Sharia Court convicted the young man of ‘blasphemy’.

With support from ADF International, he appealed his sentence to the Supreme Court of Nigeria where he is now challenging the constitutionality of the Sharia blasphemy law. A win would save his life and overturn Northern Nigeria’s Sharia-based blasphemy laws responsible for brutal mob violence and persecution.

Support the Defence of Free Speech Around the Globe

Thank you for participating in the survey. In a world facing mounting censorship, it’s never been more important to protect the right of every person to speak freely.It is always unjust for the state to restrict peaceful speech.

Nobody should be punished (much less killed) for peacefully expressing their beliefs. In a truly free society, ideas should be challenged with ideas, not criminal penalties.

Without free speech, every human right is imperiled, which is why we are so driven in our work and mission at Alliance Defending Freedom International.

We will continue to advocate for these fundamental freedoms in courtrooms, and on the public square across the world securing liberty for generations to come.

South African “Hate Speech” Bill Would Violate Human...

ADF International experts address Parliament, “Bill is unconstitutional, dangerous…

Finnish Bible Trial concludes with final attempt to criminalise...

The criminal trial of Finnish parliamentarian Päivi Räsänen and…

Live from court: Prosecution demands censorship in “hate...

The criminal trial of Finnish parliamentarian Päivi Räsänen and…

US Legislators condemn “hate speech” prosecution of Finnish...

Will free speech in Finland prevail? Finnish Member of…

European Parliament condemns Nigerian speech laws which put...

In an urgency resolution the European Parliament has called…