Freedom of speech vs. freedom from humiliation

Published on openDemocracy, by Karin Maria Svanå, Feb 27, 2009.

Should there be a limit to free speech? If so, what limits should there be and at what point? Who should exercise these limits? And who has the right to define when humiliation has occurred? These were the issues discussed in this very emotionally engaging plenary session.

… “Democracy demands debate”

First on the stage was Kierulf. With her legal background, she underlined the importance of legal limits of free speech. However, “democracy demands debate”. “This is an issue of liberty”, she said. She justified free speech for several reasons, one being that in the search for truth it is necessary with a debate. Free speech is essential in a functioning democracy, as well as being a basic liberty in all people. “There are limits to free speech – they are narrow but clear”. She continued “what justifies an utterance depends on its context and whether it contributes to a debate of common interest. That is, uttered not for the sake of harassing in itself” …

… An act of recognition?

Before the audience was allowed to ask questions, Fleming Rose gave his speech. He started off by quoting George Orwell: “If liberty means anything, it means you need to listen to the people who disagree with you”. He underlined that he would debate tonight on a principal level. “I believe in human rights. I believe in a free and open society, which also includes immigration!”. He talked of some of the background for the cartoons, and how it was meant to be a “journalistic exercise”. He claimed it was an issue not of good manners (in which you act of your own will) but of self-censorship, in which you fear the consequences of your actions. He talked of the fear and intimidation which limits free speech. “A group of some Muslims said ‘these are our limits. And because of that we want to impose these on you’. That is my concern.” Rose continued and called the publishing “an act of recognition of Muslims living in Denmark”. “We treated them as we treat other groups in our society – we applied the same standard, we asked the same of them as we do with every other group”. This resulted in loud applause from the audience. (full text).

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