Once again, I call attention to Jyllands-Posten editor, Flemming Rose, who spoke in Helsinki in November of 2015 on free speech rights (an excerpt included below the video)
So what makes it difficult today to win the battle for free speech?
Of course there are many reasons, but today I will point to what I will say is the confusion and misunderstanding of fundamental concepts in a liberal democracy, and I will just name two.
The one is the relationship between tolerance and freedom.
Many people today believe that tolerance and freedom, that they are opposites, that there is a tension between tolerance and freedom and that we have to balance tolerance against freedom to make it possible to live together in peace. That is not the case if you look at it historically, after the wars of religion in Europe in the 16th and 17th century.
The states of Europe, the Protestants and the Catholics worked out a doctrine of religious tolerance that in fact grew out of the right to freedom of religion. The fact that Protestants had to accept that they would be living side-by-side with Catholics whom they despised and hated, and vice-versa.
So historically freedom and tolerance are two sides of the same coin, and the bigger the tension between these two concepts, the more a threat to the foundation of liberal democracies. So I have to, we have to reeducate ourselves about the close relationship between freedom and tolerance. There can be no freedom in society without society being able to tolerate opinions that the majority don’t like.
And freedom doesn’t make sense if it doesn’t imply a wide understanding of tolerance of opinions that we may despise and dislike. So the relationship between tolerance and freedom is one key concept that we have to re-educate ourselves about.
The other misunderstanding I believe, is about the relationship between words and deeds.
Many people today believe that, you know, words can be as violent and hurtful as deeds, and I agree that words can be hurtful, and words can incite from time to time, but if you look at history and the development of free speech, and the fight against censorship, the key distinction was the establishing of a distinction between words and deeds.
If you look at the key difference between free societies and un-free societies, it is exactly that free societies are characterized by clear distinction between words and deeds. It’s why dictatorships and un-free societies they erode that distinction.
In a dictatorship words are being perceived as if they were actions and therefore dissidents and critical voices are being silenced with reference to the fact that they are a threat to the peace of the public order, and so on and so forth. So by equating evil words and evil deeds we are in a way moving back to the time before the Middle Ages, in Europe where people were being burned at the stake for saying critical things about the Church, about God, about people of other faiths, and I don’t think that’s where we would like to go. I think that this is happening because it has become very popular to play the grievance card, that people think that they do have a right not to be offended.