Quotes: good, bad and ugly

Here are some of history’s best freedom of speech quotes – and some of the worst: the good – and the bad and ugly!


“How brave a thing is freedom of speech, which has made the Athenians so far exceed every other state of Hellas in greatness.” – Herodotus (5th Century BC)

“This is slavery, not to speak one’s thought.” – Euripides, The Phoenician Women (5th Century BC)

“Democracies, however, possess many other just and noble features, to which right-minded men should hold fast, and in particular it is impossible to deter freedom of speech, which depends upon speaking the truth, from exposing the truth.” – Demosthenes, (338 BC)

“I, who have been brought up in freedom, with the right of free speech, cannot in my old age change and learn slavery instead.” – attributed to Cato the Younger by Cassius Dio (46 BC)

“It is the rare fortune of these days that one may think what one likes and say what one thinks.” – Tacitus, Histories (2nd Century)

“If the people of [a given] religion are asked about the proof for the soundness of their religion, they flare up, get angry and spill the blood of whoever confronts them with this question. They forbid rational speculation, and strive to kill their adversaries. This is why the truth became thoroughly silenced and concealed.” – Abū Bakr Muḥammad bin Zakariyyāʾ al-Rāzī (9th Century)

“Truth is the ultimate end of the whole universe.”-Thomas Aquinas (13th Century)

“Proclaim the truth and do not be silent through fear.” – St Catherine of Siena (14th Century)

“I want to believe freely and to be slave to the authority of no one. I will confidently confess what appears to me to be true, whether it has been asserted by a Catholic or a heretic.” – Martin Luther, Leipzig Debate (1519)

“Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.” – John Milton, Areopagitica (1644)

“Everyone is by absolute natural right the master of his own thoughts, and thus utter failure will attend any attempt in a commonwealth to force men to speak only as prescribed by the sovereign despite their different and opposing opinions.” – Baruch Spinoza, Theologico-Political Treatise (1670)

“Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.”  – Benjamin Franklin (1722)

“Without Freedom of Thought, there can be no such thing as Wisdom; and no such thing as public Liberty, without Freedom of Speech.” – Benjamin Franklin (1722)

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. – attributed to Voltaire (1758)

“Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it.” – Samuel Johnson (1780)

“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” George Washington (1783)

The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.” – Edmund Burke (1784)

Reason and free inquiry are the only effectual agents against error… They are the natural enemies of error, and of error only…” – Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (1785) 

“There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.” – James Madison (1788)

“Congress Shall Make No Law Respecting an Establishment of Religion, or Prohibiting the Free Exercise Thereof; or Abridging the Freedom of Speech, or of the Press; or the Right of the People Peaceably to Assemble, and To Petition the Government for a Redress of Grievances.” – First Amendment to the United States Constitution (1791)

“When men can freely communicate their thoughts and their sufferings, real or imaginary, their passions spend themselves in air, like gunpowder scattered upon the surface; — but pent up by terrors, they work unseen, burst forth in a moment, and destroy everything in their course. Let reason be opposed to reason, and argument to argument”Thomas Erskine (1792)

”It is there, where they burn books, that eventually they burn people.” – Heinrich Heine (1823)

“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth produced by its collision with error.” – John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1859)

“We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavouring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.” – John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1859)

“In general, opinions contrary to those commonly received can only obtain a hearing by studied moderation of language, and the most cautious avoidance of unnecessary offence, from which they hardly ever deviate even in a slight degree without losing ground: while unmeasured vituperation employed on the side of the prevailing opinion, really does deter people from professing contrary opinions, and from listening to those who profess them.” – John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1859)

“Stupidity is much the same all the world over. A stupid person’s notions and feelings may confidently be inferred from those which prevail in the circle by which the person is surrounded. Not so with those whose opinions and feelings are an emanation from their own nature and faculties.” – John Stuart Mill, The Subjection of Women (1869)

“He who stifles free discussion, secretly doubts whether what he professes to believe is really true.” – Wendell Phillips (1870)

“You have not converted a man because you have silenced him.” – John Morley (1874)

No right was deemed by the fathers of the Government more sacred than the right of speech. It was in their eyes, as in the eyes of all thoughtful men, the great moral renovator of society and government.Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist.” Frederick Douglass, Plea for Free Speech in Boston (1880)

“To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker. It is just as criminal to rob a man of his right to speak and hear as it would be to rob him of his money.” – Frederick Douglass, Plea for Free Speech in Boston (1880)

“Better a thousandfold abuse of free speech than denial of free speech. The abuse dies in a day; the denial slays the life of the people and entombs the hope of the race.” – Charles Bradlaugh (1880)

I do not believe that the tendency is to make men and women brave and glorious when you tell them that there are certain ideas upon certain subjects that they must never express; that they must go through life with a pretence as a shield; that their neighbors will think much more of them if they will only keep still; and that above all is a God who despises one who honestly expresses what he believes. For my part, I believe men will be nearer honest in business, in politics, grander in art — in everything that is good and grand and beautiful, if they are taught from the cradle to the coffin to tell their honest opinion.” – Robert G. Ingersoll, The Great Infidels (1881)

“I have always been among those who believed that the greatest freedom of speech was the greatest safety, because if a man is a fool, the best thing to do is to encourage him to advertise the fact by speaking. It cannot be so easily discovered if you allow him to remain silent and look wise, but if you let him speak, the secret is out and the world knows that he is a fool. So it is by the exposure of folly that it is defeated; not by the seclusion of folly, and in this free air of free speech men get into that sort of communication with one another which constitutes the basis of all common achievement.” – Woodrow Wilson (1919)

“It is clear that thought is not free if the profession of certain opinions makes it impossible to earn a living. It is clear also that thought is not free if all the arguments on one side of a controversy are perpetually presented as attractively as possible, while the arguments on the other side can only be discovered by diligent search.” – Bertrand Russell (1922)

“Herein lies the value of free speech. It makes concealment difficult, and, in the long run, impossible. One heretic, if he is right, is as good as a host. He is bound to win in the long run. It is thus no wonder that foes of the enlightenment always begin their proceedings by trying to deny free speech to their opponents. It is dangerous to them and they know it. So they have at it by accusing these opponents of all sorts of grave crimes and misdemeanors, most of them clearly absurd – in other words, by calling them names and trying to scare them.” – H.L. Mencken (1926)

“Freedom of expression is the matrix, the indispensable condition, of nearly every other form of freedom.” – Justice Benjamin Cardozo, United States Supreme Court in Palko v. Connecticut (1937)

“We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt (1941)

“Some people’s idea of [free speech] is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone says anything back, that is an outrage.”Winston Churchill, Hansard (13 October 1943)

“Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban… At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was ‘not done’ to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.” – George Orwell (1945)

“If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear…” George Orwell (1945)

“If large numbers of people believe in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it. But if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them. …The notion that certain opinions cannot safely be allowed a hearing is growing …even those who declare themselves to be in favour of freedom of opinion generally drop their claim when it is their own adversaries who are being prosecuted.” – George Orwell (1945)

“Evolution of democracy is not possible if we are not prepared to hear the other side.” Mahatma Ghandi (1947)

“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.” – United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19 (1948)

“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.” – European Convention on Human Rights, Article 10 (1953)

“We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” – John F. Kennedy (1962)

“Every man — in the development of his own personality — has the right to form his own beliefs and opinions. Hence, suppression of belief, opinion and expression is an affront to the dignity of man, a negation of man’s essential nature.” – Thomas Emerson,
Toward a General Theory of the First Amendment (1963)

“Propaganda is a monologue that is not looking for an answer, but an echo.” – W. H. Auden (October 1967)

“[A]cademic freedom… is of transcendent value to all of us and not merely to the teachers concerned. …The classroom is peculiarly the marketplace of ideas. The Nation’s future depends upon leaders trained through wide exposure to that robust exchange of ideas which discovers truth out of a multitude of tongues, [rather] than through any kind of authoritative selection.” – Justice William Brennan, United States Supreme Court, in Keyishian v. Board of Regents (1967)

“Somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of the press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. (1968).

“Freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of a [democratic society], one of the basic conditions for its progress and for the development of every man. …Article 10 … is applicable not only to ‘information’ or ‘ideas’ that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population. Such are the demands of that pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no ‘democratic society’.” – European Court of Human Rights in Handyside v. United Kingdom (1976).

“Among people who have learned something from the 18th century (say, Voltaire) it is a truism, hardly deserving discussion, that the defense of the right of free expression is not restricted to ideas one approves of, and that it is precisely in the case of ideas found most offensive that these rights must be most vigorously defended.” – Noam Chomsky – Some Elementary Comments on The Rights of Freedom of Expression (1980)

If you’re really in favor of free speech, then you’re in favor of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise. Otherwise, you’re not in favor of free speech.” – Noam Chomsky (1980)

“One reason that propaganda often works better on the educated than on the uneducated   …is that they have jobs in management, media, and academia and therefore work in some capacity as agents of the propaganda system–and they believe what the system expects them to believe.” – Noam Chomsky (1987)

“Truth does indeed have immense power; yet it remains extremely elusive. No single person, no body of opinion, no political or religious doctrine, no political party or government can claim to have a monopoly on truth. For that reason truth can be arrived at only through the untrammelled contest between and among competing opinions, in which as many viewpoints as possible are given a fair and equal hearing. It has therefore always been our contention that laws, mores, practices and prejudices that place constraints on freedom of expression are a disservice to society.” – Nelson Mandela, address to International Press Institute Congress (14 February 1994)

“A central lesson of science is that to understand complex issues (or even simple ones), we must try to free our minds of dogma and to guarantee the freedom to publish, to contradict, and to experiment. Arguments from authority are unacceptable.” – Carl Sagan (1997)

“Free speech includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative provided it does not tend to provoke violence. Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having.” Lord Justice Sedley, Court of Appeal of England and Wales, Redman-Bate v. Director of Public Prosecutions (1999).

“Any fool can lampoon a king or a bishop or a billionaire. A trifle more grit is required to face down a mob, or even a studio audience, that has decided it knows what it wants and is entitled to get it.” – Christopher Hitchens, Letter to a Young Contrarian (2001)

“Although the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment may benefit society generally, or communities in particular, we don’t condition those freedoms on whether how we use them benefits anyone. There is no legal or constitutional requirement that each individual use these freedoms wisely. That is part of what it means to live in an open society: you get to make your own choice about whether to acquire wisdom. We don’t let government choose for us.” Mike GodwinCyber Rights: Defending Free Speech in the Digital Age (2003)

“The moment you say that any idea system is sacred, whether it’s a religious belief system or a secular ideology, the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.” – Salman Rushdie (2005)

“Free speech is the bedrock of liberty and a free society. And yes, it includes the right to blaspheme and offend.”Ayaan Hirsi AliNomad: From Islam to America (2010)

“The freedom of speech is an important yardstick for a society’s level of civilization.” – Ai Wei Wei (2012)

“…it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive.  …In a word, the University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose.   …Although members of the University community are free to criticize and contest the views expressed on campus, and to criticize and contest speakers who are invited to express their views on campus, they may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe.” – University of Chicago, Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression (the “Chicago Principles”) (2014)

“Free speech is not speech you agree with, uttered by someone you admire. It’s speech that you find stupid, selfish, dangerous, uninformed or threatening, spoken and sponsored by someone you despise, fear or ridicule. Free speech is unpopular, contentious and sometimes ugly. It reflects a tolerance for differences. If everyone agreed on all things, we wouldn’t need it.” – Robert J. Samuelson, Washington Post (6 April 2014). 

“…academic freedom in research and in training should guarantee freedom of expression and of action, freedom to disseminate information and freedom to conduct research and distribute knowledge and truth without restriction (see Recommendation 1762 (2006) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe). It is therefore consistent with the Court’s case-law to submit to careful scrutiny any restrictions on the freedom of academics to carry out research and to publish their findings …This freedom, however, is not restricted to academic or scientific research, but also extends to the academics’ freedom to express freely their views and opinions, even if controversial or unpopular, in the areas of their research, professional expertise and competence. This may include an examination of the functioning of public institutions in a given political system, and a criticism thereof.”  – European Court of Human Rights in Erdoğan v. Turkey (2014)

For this purpose, freedom of expression has always been treated as one of the core rights protected by the Convention. It ‘constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society and one of the basic conditions for its progress and for each individual’s self fulfilment’: Sűrek v Turkey (1999) 7 BHRC 339, at para 57. The exceptions in article 10(2) must therefore be ‘construed strictly and the need of any restrictions must be established convincingly’: ibid. In this respect, the jurisprudence of the Strasbourg court is substantially at one with the common law as it had developed for many years before the Convention received the force of law in the United Kingdom” – Lord Sumption, UK Supreme Court, in R v. Home Secretary (2014)

“We hear everywhere about this false trade-off between freedom of speech and freedom of religion, as though there were some kind of balance to be struck here. There is no balance to be struck. Freedom of speech never infringes on freedom of religion. There is nothing I can say in this podcast about religion in general, or about Islam in particular, that would infringe upon someone else’s freedom to practice his or her religion. If your freedom of religion entails that you force those who do not share it to conform to it, well that’s not freedom of religion; we have a word for that – that’s theocracy. This respect that we are all urged to show for ‘religious sensitivity’ is actually a demand that the blasphemy laws of Islam be followed by non-muslims.” –  Sam HarrisAfter Charlie Hebdo and Other Thoughts (2015)

“Freedom of speech is a human right and the foundation upon which democracy is built. Any restriction of freedom of speech is a restriction upon democracy.” – Deeyah Khan (2015).

“The purpose of college is not just… to transmit skills. It’s also to widen your horizons, to make you a better citizen, to help you to evaluate information, to help you make your way through the world, to help you be more creative. …I’ve heard of some college campuses where they don’t want to have a guest speaker who, you know, is too conservative, or they don’t want to read a book that has language that is offensive to African-Americans, or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women. And you know, I’ve got to tell you, I don’t agree with that either. I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view.” – Barack Obama (2015)

“For anyone who believes that academic freedom and free speech are fundamental values that underpin university life, the casual manner in which these principles are being cast aside in Britain and the United States will come as a shock. Contempt for these freedoms is now openly expressed.” – Professor Frank Furedi, University of Kent, Prospect (January 2016)

“…the question remains: how to strike the balance between free speech and mutual respect in this mixed-up world, both blessed and cursed with instant communication? We should not fight fire with fire, threats with threats.” –  Timothy Garton Ash (2016)

“I regard free speech as a prerequisite to a civilized society, because freedom of speech means that you can have combat with words. That’s what it means. It doesn’t mean that people can happily and gently exchange opinions. It means that we can engage in combat with words, in the battleground of ideas. And the reason that that’s acceptable, and why it’s acceptable that people’s feelings get hurt during that combat, is that the combat of ideas is far preferable to actual combat.” –  Jordan Peterson, Maps of Meaning (2017)

“The people supporting free speech now are the conservatives. It’s incomprehensible to me, but it’s the so-called liberals on campus, the students who think of themselves as activists, who are becoming increasingly authoritarian.” – Laura Kipnis, Guardian (2 April 2017).

“Research happens at colleges, obviously education, teaching, all those different things, and students need to be exposed to different viewpoints and they need to have the ability to be exposed to those different viewpoints if we are going to actually, not just educate students in a liberal fashion … And I’m not talking left/right liberal, I’m talking sort of a classically liberal, the idea of openness.” – Robert Shibley, director of FIRE (April 2017)

“I’ve had many conversations with students who say they don’t feel comfortable because their professor has expressed views against homosexuality. They don’t feel comfortable being in class with someone with those views. And I say, ‘I’m sorry, but my job isn’t to make you feel comfortable. Education is not about being comfortable. I’m interested in making you uncomfortable’.” – Professor Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor, University of Oxford (September 2017)

“Freedom of speech is one of the most precious human rights. A free society depends on the free exchange of ideas. But some students justify ‘no platforms’ and ‘safe spaces’ in the name of not causing offence, even though nearly all ideas are capable of giving offence to someone. Many of the most important ideas in human history – such as those of Galileo Galilei, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud – caused great offence in their time. There is no right to not be offended, whether on a university campus or anywhere else.” – Peter Tatchell (October 2017)

“Mutual respect and tolerance of different viewpoints is required to hold the open debates that democracy needs. Nonetheless the right to free speech includes the right to say things which, though lawful, others may find offensive. Unless it is unlawful, speech should normally be allowed.” – UK Parliament Joint Committee on Human Rights, Freedom of Speech in Universities (March 2018)

“Free speech is prior to diversity, as the philosophers say. It is a necessary condition of diversity, and probably diversity’s greatest guarantor. To extol inclusion at the expense of speech is incoherent and unserious—a mere reflex of campus ideology in our era of discontent.” – Andrew Ferguson, Weekly Standard (23 March 2018)

“One reason that freedom of speech is so important is that doubt is the foundation of science. When you close a topic to discussion, you are saying that it is decided, and scientific inquiry is no longer allowed into that domain.” – Naval Ravikant, Twitter (4 May 2018)

“Scorn, anger, mockery, even hate, are deeply woven into the way competing beliefs, ideas and practices fight it out in a free society, and you could as well remove ridicule from free speech as salt from a salt-beef sandwich.” – Matthew Parris (August 2018).

“The notion that a university should protect all of its students from ideas that some of them find offensive is a repudiation of the legacy of Socrates, who described himself as the ‘gadfly’ of the Athenian people. He thought it was his job to sting, to disturb, to question, and thereby to provoke his fellow Athenians to think through their current beliefs, and change the ones they could not defend.” – Jonathan Haidt & Greg Lukianoff, The Coddling of the American Mind (2019)

“Books about free speech proliferate in precisely inverse proportion to the extent to which that right is exercised. For free speech is not something you just talk about. Surely it is something you do. A society that talks about free speech too much is like a man who talks about sex all the time: a sure-fire sign they are not getting any.” – Douglas Murray (February 2020)

“Two influential lobby groups—Advance HE and Stonewall—actively discourage universities from supporting free speech. Both advocate a commitment to equality that goes beyond existing law and denies academic freedom.  …Affiliated institutions must demonstrate their commitment to equality through regular assessments and by creating bureaucratic structures to promote equality and diversity at the expense of freedom of speech. As a result, most universities fund equality and diversity units that are solely or primarily concerned with upholding the policies of Advance HE and Stonewall, rather than with upholding existing law on equality and on academic freedom…” – Professor Nigel Biggar CBE, University of Oxford, written evidence to Public Bills Committee of UK House of Commons (June 2020)

“We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters. But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought. More troubling still, institutional leaders, in a spirit of panicked damage control, are delivering hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms. Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes. Whatever the arguments around each particular incident, the result has been to steadily narrow the boundaries of what can be said without the threat of reprisal. We are already paying the price in greater risk aversion among writers, artists, and journalists who fear for their livelihoods if they depart from the consensus, or even lack sufficient zeal in agreement.” – Open Letter in Harper’s Magazine signed by 150 writers, academics and artists (7 July 2020)

“I have a mind-set that the world is a complex place we are trying to understand. There is an inherent value to free speech, because no one knows the solution to problems a priori.” – Professor Steven Pinker, Harvard University, New York Times (15 July 2020)

“The prosecution argument failed entirely to acknowledge the well-established proposition that free speech encompasses the right to offend, and indeed to abuse another. The Judge appears to have considered that a criminal conviction was merited for acts of unkindness, and calling others names, and that such acts could only be justified if they made a contribution to a ‘proper debate’.  …The Judge evidently attached weight to the notion of a “debate” – a word that appears nine times in her judgment. It is unclear from what source she drew the term.– Mr Justice Warby, Divisional Court of England and Wales, Scottow v. Crown Prosecution Service (16 December 2020)

“Freedom of speech gives real power to the individual. It liberates us not only to express our own views …but also to listen to the views of everyone else and to use our mental and moral muscles to decide for ourselves if what they are saying is right or wrong. Freedom of speech is the foundation stone of moral autonomy. It demands that we take ourselves seriously, weigh things up, make moral judgements, and correct error as we find it. Censorship, by contrast, infantilises us, weakening our mental and moral muscles by inviting us to rely instead on the judgements of our superiors; on those who will decide on our behalf what we may see, what we may read, and what we should think.” – Brendan O’Neill (February 2021)

“An entire generation is experiencing a crisis of free speech, of authenticity, and of honesty to oneself and one’s values. For every member of that 62 percent of young people self-censoring, for every constructive debate that never happens, for every brilliant idea that never gets voiced, it amounts to a true tragedy. Generation Z deserves permission to engage with controversial topics and to lean into ambiguity. The realm of discomfort is where growth and discovery occur. …Unless our society abandons its censorious tendencies, it will yield a generation unable to speak freely, to take risks, or even just to be authentic.” –  Rikki Schlott, Generation Z’s Silent Free Speech Crisis (April 2021)

“…academic freedom and free speech are at the heart of what universities should be about.” _ Professor James Tooley, Vic-Chancellor, University of Buckingham (July 2021).

“Schools and universities face growing pressures to adopt positions or exclude debate on controversial issues related to equality. Such pressures can be motivated by the [Public Sector Equality Duty] and …a subjective understanding of harassment. It is possible that well meaning efforts to achieve the goals of the PSED can have the effect of promoting ideological conformity and depriving educational institutions of the freedom of thought and debate that is crucial to the diversity of viewpoint that they should value.” –  Professor Paul Yowell, University of Oxford (September, 2021)

“…the big, big issue here is the monumental chilling effect that academics feel: in a UCU-sponsored study, 35% of academics—UCU members—said that they felt restricted in saying what they believe. That is 35,000 academics. In a King’s study, 25% of students claim that they will not say what they believe—that is 500,000 people. We are talking about an absolutely massive problem here, and I think it is very important to get that point across. Issues around no-platforming are the tip of a vast iceberg of chilling effects and self-censorship that I believe is distorting the truth-seeking mission of the university. The university has to be a place where we can pursue truths, even if they go against conventions and mores of the time.” – Professor Eric Kaufmann, Birkbeck College, London, evidence to the Public Bills Committee of the UK House of Commons (September 2021)

“…we are also dealing with institutions that are responsible for the next generation. I would want my students to disagree with me on a whole range of issues, but I would also want them to be exposed to very different viewpoints throughout their university experience: viewpoints on the left, on the right, from above and from below. Ultimately, that is what gives us the ability to think critically and it strengthens our democracy.” – Professor Matthew Goodwin, University of Kent, evidence to the Public Bills Committee of the UK House of Commons (September 2021) 

“Universities aren’t places where students should just expect to hear their own thoughts reflected back at them. Arguments should be met by arguments and evidence by evidence, not intimidation or aggression.” – Professor Kathleen Stock (October, 2021)

“I want St Andrews and its students and staff to consider how we can model to the rest of the country and the world how we surface, debate, and argue about the most difficult and divisive issues in a way which does not leave anyone feeling threatened, vilified on social media, silenced, cancelled, or misrepresented …Inclusiveness means being prepared to listen to opinions and ideas with which we might passionately disagree, and accepting that a truly diverse community is one which is perpetually open to uncomfortable challenge..” – Professor Dame Sally Mapstone, Principal, University of St Andrews (November 2021)

“Hate (like offence) is subjective, and can be used to delegitimise debate. This has also become a problem in relation to politics – with sceptics of government policy on climate change called ‘climate deniers’ or people who question vaccine mandates as ‘anti-vaxxers’. The category of hate is often used to shut down views we don’t like. We can’t take ‘hate speech’ at face value – it has become too broad and too overused to be any decent means of collecting date (as its supporters claim). But more importantly, too many in power are cowardly in the face of cancel culture – it’s time to call for courage, to stand up for free speech no matter whether it’s hateful or not.” – Baroness Fox, UK House of Lords (13 December 2021)

“The concept of a chilling effect in the context of freedom of expression is an extremely important one. It often arises in discussions about what if any restrictions on journalistic activity are lawful; but in my judgment it is equally important when considering the rights of private citizens to express their views within the limits of the law, including and one might say in particular, on controversial matters of public interest…” – Lady Justice Sharp, Court of Appeal of England and Wales, Miller v College of Policing (December, 2021)

“Opposition to free speech never goes away, which is why it must be defended anew in each successive generation. It is a privilege that has been denied to the overwhelming majority of societies in human history.” – Andrew Doyle, Free Speech and Why It Matters (2021)

“Lost in the incessant focus on the darker sides of free speech—real, perceived, and exaggerated—are the profound benefits of free and open discourse, from the toppling of absolutist rulers to the cross-fertilization of knowledge across cultures and the defeat of institutional racism and discrimination. As thinkers like Spinoza, Cato, Madison, Constant, and Douglass have pointed out, we jeopardize those benefits if we are unwilling to accept any of the harms or costs that inevitably accompany free expression.” – Jacob Mchangama, Free Speech from Socrates to Social Media (2022)

“I strongly support the right to freedom of speech and academic freedom to debate. It’s important that those who disagree are able to do so and, through debating, to hone their own arguments. I’ve learned a lot from those I disagree with.” – Professor Selina Todd, University of Oxford (2022)

“History provides us with ample warning of those times and places when colleges and universities have stopped pursuing truth and have instead turned themselves into cathedrals for the worship of certain dogma. By depriving itself of academic institutions that pursue truth over any other concern, a society risks falling into the abyss of ignorance. Humans are not smart enough to have ideas that lie beyond challenge and debate… A university that has placed its highest premium on the protection of feelings or safe intellectual space has abandoned its core mission. The protection of feelings or the creation of safe space rightly might be the foremost goal in some settings, like at a family dinner, but it is not right for a university. Its unambiguous mission must remain the pursuit of truth… A university that turns itself into an asylum from controversy has ceased to be a university; it has just become an asylum.” – Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus, United States Court of Appeals in Speech First Inc. v. University of Central Florida (21 April 2022).

By ‘free speech’, I simply mean that which matches the law. I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law. If people want less free speech, they will ask government to pass laws to that effect. Therefore, going beyond the law is contrary to the will of the people.” – Elon Musk, Twitter (26 April 2022)

“University should be an environment where you can say pretty much anything you like and other people can say whatever they like as well. You can expect to be offended and being offended or shocked shouldn’t automatically be grounds for complaint.” – Dr. Arif Ahmed, University of Cambridge (3 May 2022)


“Then the first thing will be to establish a censorship of the writers of fiction, and let the censors receive any tale of fiction which is good, and reject the bad; and we will desire mothers and nurses to tell their children the authorized ones only.” – Plato, The Republic (375 BC).

“We excommunicate and anathematize every heresy that raises against the holy orthodox and Catholic faith …condemning all heretics under whatever names they may be known,” – Fourth Lateran Council (1215).

“The end of the office of the inquisition is the destruction of heresy; this cannot be destroyed unless heretics are destroyed …Heretics are destroyed in a double fashion: first, when they are converted from heresy to the true, Catholic faith …secondly, when they are surrendered to the secular jurisdiction to be corporeally burned.” – Bernard Gui, Practice of the Inquisition (14th Century)

“[it is illegal to] dare to buy, sell, read, preserve, copy, print, or cause to be copied or printed, any books of the aforesaid Martin Luther …Neither shall any dare to approve his opinions, nor to proclaim, defend, or assert them, in any other way that human ingenuity can invent.” – Edict of Worms (1521).

“Propositions to be forbidden: That the sun is immovable at the center of the heaven; that the earth is not at the centre of the heaven, and is not immovable; but moves by a double motion.” – Codex of the Catholic Church is response to Galileo’s theories (1616)

“When one makes a Revolution, one cannot mark time; one must always go forward – or go back. He who now talks about the ‘freedom of the press’ goes backward, and halts our headlong course toward Socialism.” Vladimir Lenin (1917)

” …The function of propaganda is, for example, not to weigh and ponder the rights of different people, but exclusively to emphasize the one right which it has set out to argue for. Its task is not to make an objective study of the truth, in so far as it favors the enemy, and then set it before the masses with academic fairness; its task is to serve our own right, always and unflinchingly.” Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (1926)

“Captain Beatty: Colored people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Burn it.” – Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, (1953)

“There is freedom of speech, but I cannot guarantee freedom after speech.” Idi Amin (Inaugural Speech, 1971)

“I’m all in favour of free expression provided it’s kept rigidly under control.” – Tony Benn (1980)

“This generation of students and activists is standing up and saying that for too long, men have spoken over women, trans and non-binary people, just as white people have spoken over people of colour. In some cases, they should shut up and listen. And sometimes, to the horror of certain academics and professional narcissists, this involves rethinking the right to speak at all times, for all people, on any topic.” Niamh McIntyre – Interview in Times Higher Education (December 2015)

“The recent student demonstrations at Auburn against Spencer’s visit — as well as protests on other campuses against Charles Murray, Milo Yiannopoulos and others — should be understood as an attempt to ensure the conditions of free speech for a greater group of people, rather than censorship. Liberal free-speech advocates rush to point out that the views of these individuals must be heard first to be rejected. But this is not the case. Universities invite speakers not chiefly to present otherwise unavailable discoveries, but to present to the public views they have presented elsewhere. When those views invalidate the humanity of some people, they restrict speech as a public good.” – Professor Ulrich Baer, What ‘Snowflakes’ Get Right About Free Speech, New York Times (24 April 2017)

“Free speech is indeed sacred, a hard-won right extracted from the powerful at huge cost. It does not mean the right to incite hatred, not least on public platforms provided by others. But the bigots who clothe themselves in the garb of free speech have no real interest in it. They just want the right to hate without challenge.” – Owen Jones, Guardian (7 September 2017)

“We recognise the wonderful advantages in having CU representatives at the Fresher’s Fair, but are concerned that there is potential for harm to freshers who are already struggling to feel welcome in Oxford. Our sole concern is that the presence of the CU alone may alienate incoming students. This sort of alienation or micro-aggression is regularly dismissed as not important enough to report. …Historically, Christianity’s influence on many marginalised communities has been damaging in its methods of conversion and rules of practice, and is still used in many places as an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism.” –  Balliol College, Oxford, JCR Welfare Sub-Committee (October 2017)

“If free speech does take precedence over every other constitutional principle and every other community principle, then perhaps we should no longer claim to be weighing or balancing competing principles or values. We should perhaps frankly admit that we have agreed in advance to have our community sundered, racial and sexual minorities demeaned, the dignity of trans people denied, that we are, in effect, willing to be wrecked by this principle of free speech, considered more important than any other value. If so, we should be honest about the bargain we have made: we are willing to be broken by that principle, and that, yes, our commitments to dignity, equality, and non-violence will be, for better or worse, secondary.” – Professor Judith Baker, UC Berkeley (7 December 2017)

“We believe that a key part of combating extremism is preventing recruitment by disrupting the underlying ideologies that drive people to commit acts of violence. That’s why we support a variety of counterspeech efforts.” – Monika Bickert, Facebook’s Head of Global Policy Management (2018)

“It is the privileging of freedom of speech over freedom to life that has emboldened identitarian and neo-Nazi activists, who are experts at manipulating naive liberal arguments about freedom of speech.” – Liz Fekete, Institute of Race Relations, letter to the Guardian (25 March 2018)

“’No-platforming’ does not realistically seek to ban a speaker from all platforms; it seeks to prevent them from using a particular one.” – Professor William Davies, Goldsmiths, University of London, The Guardian (26 July 2018)

“Having the freedom of speech doesn’t mean saying whatever you want, it means saying what’s humane, hateless and non-prejudicial.” – Abhijit Naskar, Citizens of Peace (2019).

This is the myth of the free speech crisis. It is an extension of the political-correctness myth, but is a recent mutation more specifically linked to efforts or impulses to normalise hate speech or shut down legitimate responses to it. The purpose of the myth is not to secure freedom of speech – that is, the right to express one’s opinions without censorship, restraint or legal penalty” – Nasrine Malik, The Guardian (3 September 2019)

“Avoid excessive press coverage and exposure… Another technique which has been used to great effect is the limitation of press coverage and exposure …The NGOs observed that many mainstream and right-wing media outlets have given platforms to the voices of trans exclusionary radical feminists (‘TERFs’) …The UK has been unable to avoid excessive coverage in the media. …The major lesson NGOs drew from the UK experience is the importance of avoiding, where possible, excessive and negative press coverage. Largely as a result of such press coverage, legal gender recognition continues to be an incredibly divisive issue in the UK.” –  IGLYO/Denton Report of Best Practices for NGOs advancing transgender rights (November 2019)

“…the university cannot be a place where racism and fascism – as well as sexism, homophobia and transphobia – are allowed to be expressed. Tactics such as ‘no platforming’ and the creation of ‘safe spaces’ are necessary for students and activists because the threats that led to ‘no platforming’ in the 1970s remain. Government action that waters down the ability to combat these threats must be resisted.” – Dr. Evan Smith, The Guardian (22 February 2020)

After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them — specifically how they are being received and interpreted on and off Twitter — we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.” – Twitter (8 January 2021)

“At the root of the pseudo-crisis narrative are two conflations. First, of ‘speech with ‘platform’. Speech is a right, platform is a privilege. Universities and students unions are independent organisations and are entitled to offer their platform to whoever they choose. Similarly, Stonewall is entitled to put whatever conditions it wants on use of its kitemark.” – Sam Fowles, Politico.co.uk, (25 January 2021)

“With all beliefs including controversial beliefs there is a right to express those beliefs publicly and where they’re harmful or damaging – whether it’s anti-Semitic beliefs, gender critical beliefs, beliefs about disability – we have legal systems that are put in place for people who are harmed by that.” – Nancy Kelley, CEO, Stonewall, BBC Radio 4 (May 2021)

“Cancel culture is a term bounced around by people afraid of accountability. But freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences.” – Monisha Rajesh, The Guardian (13 August, 2021)

“Anti-trans professor Kathleen Stock quits Sussex university in ‘massive win for LGBT+ students’” – Pink News (12 October 2021)

“By upholding free speech as a shield and dismissing grievances over the sometimes ill-conceived tactics of the aggrieved, such as shouting down a speaker, I was the one reluctant to receive new ideas, to understand why certain speech offends and how shifting norms around race, gender, and sexuality echo the deep wells of discrimination, the progresses made, and the long roads ahead… As racism, misogyny, and xenophobia occupied the highest levels of government, these harmful ideas did not need the additional platform of a university event to be heard, nor could they be defeated by a mere exchange of words. What the most vocal proponents of ‘campus free speech’ desired was not the freedom of inquiry but a license to offend, free from consequences.” –  Yangyang Cheng, Yale Law School, The Atlantic (23 November 2021) 

“Trigger Warning: Transphobia”

  • On Tuesday, November 23rd, the Principal Professor Sally Mapstone sent a university-wide email covering various topics relevant to the St Andrews community. However, the section of the email commenting on Transfest (a student-organized celebration of trans culture in St Andrews) is incredibly harmful for multiple reasons.
  • In the passage, Professor Mapstone insinuates that trans rights are up for debate as people should be ‘prepared to listen to opinions and ideas with which we might passionately disagree, and [accept] that a truly diverse community is one which is perpetually open to uncomfortable challenge. That is the St Andrews way’.

This comment is incredibly dangerous and hurtful. Trans rights are not up for debate.” St Andrews and Stirling chapter of Minorities and Philosophy (November 2021)

“…following numerous requests by students and staff we are reviewing the name of our red house ‘Rowling’ and in light of J.K Rowling’s comments and viewpoints surrounding trans people. Her views on this issue do not align with our school policy and school beliefs – a place where people are free to be.” – Boswells School, Chelmsford, UK (January 2022)

“…freedom of speech is only heralded as a paramount human right by those who aren’t on the receiving end of the kind of sentiment that makes you unsafe; that sees people like you disproportionately targeted by the state; that makes you question your right to live in the place you call home.” Nadeine Asbali, The Independent (28 March 2022)

Sky News reporter interviewing Harry Potter franchise actor, Tom Felton: “You and the other stars of the film are very much still the face of the franchise. JK obviously has more of a back seat now. Is it strange her not being around for things like this?” Warner Brothers PR representative: “Next question please.” (27 June 2022)