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All can speak freely

Ensuring free speech for all 

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Why is free speech important to society?

As humans made in the image of God, we must exercise wise stewardship over creation. This stewardship encompasses both physical creation as well as our relationships with other people. 

Since we live in a broken world, our interactions are flawed, but we are told to “speak the truth in love” to one another. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, God initiated the rescue and redemption of His creation and makes all things new. This is the Good News that Jesus has commissioned His followers to share with everyone, to the ends of the earth. 

Speech is clearly central to this mission. Protecting the right to speak freely is not only necessary for the flourishing of society, it is essential to proclaiming the Gospel. 

Protecting the fundamental right to free speech ensures that all have the liberty to engage in civil discourse and pursue truth without fear of government punishment or retaliation. 

ADF International seeks to cultivate a society defined by respect and tolerance for different views, the free exchange of ideas, and robust debate. 

Free speech is a right belonging to everyone—from the student on the university campus to the creative professional wanting to speak messages in accordance with his or her conscience. 

Government censorship, compelled speech, so-called “hate speech” laws, free speech zones, and cancel culture all undermine free speech and should be opposed. A marketplace of diverse ideas is essential to a free society. Without free speech, there can be no freedom and democracies crumble. 

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”

What is the legal framework for the right to free speech?

International law provides a robust framework for freedom of speech.   

Protections for this fundamental freedom are informed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”   

Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights likewise protects freedom of expression.  

At the regional level, Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights protects the right to freedom of expression, as does Article 11 of the EU Charter, and Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights.

Every country in the world protects freedom of speech, at least in theory—including North Korea, China, and Pakistan. The problem comes with the numerous caveats, either in law or through judicial interpretation, that threaten the right of every person to speak freely. 

What are "hate speech" laws?

So-called “hate speech” laws are ambiguously worded laws that criminalize certain speech beyond what is acceptable in a democratic society. Rather than combat hate, the criminalization of speech based on subjective criteria creates a culture of fear and censorship. 

Despite having no basis in international law, all European Union Member States have vague and subjective “hate speech” laws. These laws, with the right police and prosecutor, easily can be weaponized against practically any person and any form of speech, thus directly violating the State’s obligation to protect free speech. 

Because “hate speech” laws rely on vague terms such as ‘insult’, ‘belittle’, and ‘offend’, they are inconsistently interpreted and arbitrarily enforced, often with the threat of serious criminal penalties. An offence is considered hateful in reference to the hearer or reader, making it subjective with little to no regard for the content of the speech itself. 

Censorship looks different across the world, but it includes any effort to restrict the basic right to freedom of expression. The punishment for censorship differs dramatically depending on the context, but laws criminalizing “hate speech” share the same roots as those banning blasphemy. Both are State-driven censorship, incompatible with free societies. 

Our goal is to ensure that nobody is punished or persecuted for peacefully expressing their convictions. 

Although manifesting in distinct forms, violations of freedom of speech occur in all parts of the world. At ADF International, we work to ensure that free speech is guaranteed for all, and that every person can hold and express his or her own opinions and beliefs.  

ADF International upholds the human right to free speech through our advocacy efforts to: 

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