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DDO Essay Tournament: The Freedom of Expression is an Absolute Right

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Voting Style: Open Point System: Select Winner
Started: 11/9/2014 Category: Politics
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,082 times Debate No: 64845
Debate Rounds (2)
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This debate is part of Ajabi's essay tournament. Both debators are in favour of the resolution; points go to whoever makes a better case.

'The Freedom of Expression is an Absolute Right'

First round for acceptance and essays to be presented in the second round.


I accept this debate and wish my opponent the best of luck.
Debate Round No. 1


Freedom of expression, if not held to be absolute, is worthless. As Noam Chomsky argues, “if we don’t believe in free expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all”.[1] Popular opinions are usually not those which need to be protected, rather it is the unpopular ones, or certainly those unpopular with the establishment, which we must stand up for.

This can be defended as a matter of intellectual principle. As Christopher Hitchens believed, when we limit freedom of expression, we not only hurt those who are censored, but also ourselves; “it’s not just the right of the person who speaks to be heard, it is the right of everyone in the audience to hear… every time you silence somebody you make yourself a prisoner of your own action”.[2] If those who criticise popular views are silenced, then we lose any contribution that could have been made. The popular doctrines may simply be false, or it may be that allowing them to face criticism will result in substantial improvements being made to our understanding. Criticising a civil rights movement may provoke that movement to expand its scope, or redefine the oppression it opposes, even if its approach was broadly correct and the opinions of its critics morally repugnant. Criticising a scientific hypothesis may provoke a questioning of its assumptions and a search for new evidence which leads to further discoveries, even if the critics who would be censored propose ideas more false than the popular hypothesis was, or are motivated to attack the hypothesis for completely unscientific reasons. It is true that such changes may occur via discussion within the realm of accepted discourse, but exposure to that which is outside accepted discourse may nonetheless provide valuable inspiration for improvement which would be lost if freedom of expression was not absolutely protected. Of course, if the popular ideas are completely false, then the likelihood of their being effectively challenged within the realm of accepted discourse is effectively annihilated, and ‘unacceptable ideas’ become vital. Censorship, by constraining discourse, retards the development of ideas, and places untenable confidence in the ideas which are accepted. Indeed, censorship makes radical change impossible, which is why George Bernard Shaw writes that “the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships”.[3] If we are unwilling to place absolute confidence in the truth of our own ideas, then for that reason alone we must support freedom of expression absolutely. ‘Overconfidence’ characterises resistance to the absolute freedom of expression in another way. Who can we trust to be the censor? In creating a censor, we place in their hands the health of our intellectual culture. We allow this entity to decide on our behalf what constitutes a valuable idea, so we must not only place irrational faith in the strength of our ideas, but also in the censor. The censor must be of the kind we rarely witness on Earth – incorruptible in the face of profound power, and in possession of extraordinary wisdom. Leaving moral principles completely aside, there is no rational basis for censorship, since it requires that we make two immense leaps of faith. First, we must believe that our ideas are perfect; second, we must believe that there is a person capable of performing a duty of such deep importance adequately.

Not only can censorship be shown to be unjustified a priori, but history shows us the cost of censorship. Obvious examples can be found, such as the subjugation of Galileo’s science to catholic doctrine, or the extreme cruelty of various regimes who have imposed censorship, and thus removed the ability of the people to challenge them, prominent examples of that being the USSR and Nazi Germany. However, these examples perhaps lose force because we are inclined to view our modern Western societies as beyond that kind of dogmatic stupidity and savagery. Martin Luther King, then, makes a far more powerful example. As Tim Weiner, author of ‘Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA’, writes: “Hoover saw the civil rights movement from the 1950s onward and the anti-war movement from the 1960s onward, as presenting the greatest threats to the stability of the American government since the Civil War.. These people were enemies of the state, and in particular Martin Luther King [Jr.] was an enemy of the state”.[4] The FBI wire-tapped Martin Luther King and conducted covert investigations in order to discredit him, calling him "most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country" after his 1963 “I have a dream” speech.[5] Modern Western democracies are perfectly capable of identifying ideas as ‘dangerous’, ideas which we now widely accept as being just complaints against oppression and unjust war. If the United States was more accepting of censorship, it is not at all unreasonable to think that the anti-war movement and the civil rights movement would have been victims of it. We cannot think now that we are ‘above’ censoring valuable ideas, or that our Western governments would not decide to censor ideas which challenge its policy, if we permit them to do that.
As a matter of intellectual principle, restrictions on the right to free expression are indefensible, and this has been clearly illustrated throughout history, and would have been illustrated again by our modern societies, if we had let them.

[1] As quoted by Bracken, H.M., Freedom of Speech: Words are Not Deeds, p.124
[3] Shaw, G.B., Mrs. Warren’s Profession, Preface


Fredick Douglas put it best when he spoke of free speech, "To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker." Our famers understood the importantce of the right to free speech and today I indeed to show you how it is important to our nation and our nation's developement by observing three key areas of analysis: History of censorship in the US, free speech leading to new movements, and free speech today.

"If free speech taken away, then like the dumb and the silent may we be led, like sheep to the slaughter," George Washington 1783. Washington understood that if we loose the ability to express ourselves through speech, the press, or even petitioning the government to get them to act on an issue. In the infantcy of the United States, the US was preparing for a possible war with France or Brittian as President John Adams passed the Sedition Act which made it illegal to question the President of the United States which in theory also made it illegal for someone to run against the President as if they were to question the incumbent then they would be able to be arrested under the Sedition Act of 1798 ( The Federalist placed an expiration date on the bill so it would expire before the elections took place to make sure that the law doesn't harm them in the 1800 election, though it still did. In the South, Post Office began to censor mail that contained abolitionist mail to prevent the northern propaganda from getting to the slaves. This tradition would continue on with the Comstock Act of 1873 where it was now legal for the Post Offices to censor mail that contained things that were concidered "obscene." Then in 1918, the US passes another Seditions Act and the greatest member who gets hammared in this process is the founder of the US Socialist Party Eugene V. Debs who later runs for President from his jail cell. In the 1989 Supreme Court Case of Texas V. Johnson, Johnson burns the US flaf and argues that it is Constitutionally protected to burn the US flag via freespeech ( The Supreme Court stated that, ""[i]f there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable." The Supreme Court here shows the importance of the right to offend reversing years of laws that had abridged the right to free speech as it simply offended someone. (

Free Speech had also encouraged many movements and even egged on somethings causing great publicity to help push the agenda of the law. First is Uptin SIn Clair's novel, Into the Jungle, where Sin Clair outstead the horrors of some of the practices by many American factories and lead to the creation of the Federal Drug Administration which led to an increase in demands for American goods as people could be sure their food didn't have a piece of Borris (Borris was the character in Into the Jungle that lost his hand to the meat grinder) in it and that their medicine is pure. The second biggest movement from the right of expression was the NWP's (National Women's Party) protests on the White House front gates during the war where they would risk falling under the category of violating the Sedition Act of 1918, but contintued anyways. She argued that Since Wilson was giving democracy to the Germans overseas why not give the millions of women back home the right to vote. Your Vote is your voice in the government.

In the modern day there are three main perponents to the freedom of expression: the Phelps, Tea Party, and Corporations. The Westboro Baptist Church no mater how imfamous they are always make the news with their protests. We have known the Phelps to protest gay marriage and the death of military members and in 2010 they picketted the funeral of Lance Corpral Matthew Synder. His father was tramatised after seeing the signs of the protesting and sued the Phelps, but failed in an 8-1 decission which reinforeced the ruiling of the Texas V. Johnson Supreme Court Case. ( The Tea Party protests popped up in 2009 in response to Obama bailing out companies and not showing government responsability. In 2010 and 2012 they had won a large amount of seats in Congress. Corporations are another case. In 1971, Congress passed FECA whihc limited political campaign donations, but was overturned 5 years later in the 1976 Supreme Court Case Buckley V. Valeo where they found that money is a type of speech and cannot be supressed. In 2010, that idea was reinforced when the federal government decided that Coorporations have the same rights as humans in the court case Citizens United V. FEC.

In conclusion, we can see that the freedom of Expression is a paramount that we must have it as an absolute right to have our say in our dayly lives and our government.

Thank you and please vote Con.
Debate Round No. 2
2 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Posted by Wocambs 2 years ago
Posted by Wocambs 2 years ago
Citation [2]

Around 23:30
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by 9spaceking 2 years ago
Who won the debate:Vote Checkmark-
Reasons for voting decision: hard choice. While pro is more eloquent, con shows through simpler wording an almost equally strong essay. Furthermore, I felt like pro's second paragraph left off in a cliff-hanger. Nevertheless, I felt like pro's final conclusion was more full-circle than con, and even though both of you would earn a "12" if this was SAT, lannan13 would probably be more of an 11 and 1/2(Or, put more accurately, 11 and 3/4). Good job to both of you!
Vote Placed by kasmic 2 years ago
Who won the debate:Vote Checkmark-
Reasons for voting decision: I liked both presentations. I preferred Wocambs approach via "a matter of intellectual principle." In fact I think that would be a great title for such an article. Both presentations contained great quotes and were well written. Iannan I was distracted by the spelling and grammatical errors, I think that such errors took away from the message. It is possible that minus the errors I may have found your essay more powerful. Good Job to both of you.