PV-01: Respect for others and freedom of speech

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PV-01: Respect for others and freedom of speech

In some legal systems freedom of speech is limited and excludes the incitement of hate for others. We believe that other people’s views should generally be respected as sincerely held, even where one disagrees with them, but it follows from Article 19 in the UDHR (http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights) that everyone has the right to challenge other people’s views through rational argument.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) includes the following:

Article 18: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19: 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.

Opening statement
Freedom of speech is an essential element in all democratic decision making. But this freedom should not extend to inciting hate for others. Protection from hate speech, however, does not imply any right not to be offended, upset or contradicted.

Why it is important in context of inclusive citizenship education?
Freedom of speech requires careful exploration through citizenship education. It may initially seem to be a fundamental, absolute right but in real social situations unfettered freedom of speech may infringe other people’s rights by inciting or threatening hatred and persecution. Learners should discuss the legal and informal limitations, and the reasons for them, in different situations, including agreed limitations on freedom of discussion in the citizenship classroom during lessons. Learners should also consider if the right to express oneself should be linked to the responsibility to protect others’ rights.

An inclusive learning group will agree ways of working so that freedom of expression does not disadvantage any group members or worsen the power relationships (e.g. allowing the most powerful members of the group to dominate discussion or humiliate weaker members).

Freedom of speech is an essential characteristic of any inclusive democratic society. People should be able to challenge others, but not in ways that generate hatred, or being needlessly offensive in voicing difference. In a functioning democracy this means respecting others with opposing views. Individuals and communities should live together in a society that includes minority and majority opinions.

Those with other points of view have reasons for these – maybe misplaced views, maybe alternative ideologies – but simply telling people they are wrong makes them likely to put up barriers and reject what others say. A discussion, in which each side can hear the beliefs of the other and exchange information and experiences, can lead to reflecting on both positions and experiences, rather than excluding one or the other. But such exchanges need participants not to be offensive to each other, and not to display hatred for the other.

Context, issues, processes
A democratic society requires mechanisms for different opinions and policies to be expressed, debated and tested publicly with reference to legitimate evidence and logical reasoning. So citizenship education must equip citizens with the skills required to understand important issues and express their own viewpoints and interests in order to participate in the democratic life of the community.

Defining the difference between inciting hatred and expressing legitimate criticism can be difficult. Insulting, abusing or discriminating against a person or a group because of their ethnicity or skin colour is widely recognised as unacceptable racist abuse, but criticising a behaviour, belief or custom that is closely associated with an ethnic group or religion may be acceptable if it does not incite hatred.

Inclusive citizenship education must equip citizens to understand the reasonable limits of freedom of speech, and develop skills of engaging in dialogue, expressing views without unnecessary offence, and sharing space with those who hold conflicting views. Lack of such skills puts democracy and social cohesion at risk. The understanding of freedom of expression and its limits is particularly critical in diverse communities. Mutual respect for each other’s right to speak freely, with consideration of other’s human rights, is central to citizenship education. Engaging in dialogue with other people requires a degree of empathy.

Freedom of speech must be promoted as a fundamental democratic requirement but it is limited to not create hatred for others. Citizenship education must help communities to engage in dialogue, respect diverse opinions and promote democratic decisions. Reasoning and encouraging reflection is more likely to work than dismissal, and this requires some element of respect.

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