freedom of speech

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A man at an event in Trafalgar Square, London, UK, holding up a sign supporting freedom of speech


The concept and the term are ancient; Athens’ democratic ideology of free speech is thought to have emerged in the 5th or 6th century BCE. The first occurrence of the phrase freedom of speech recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary dates to 1567, and it also appears in the English Bill of Rights, among other works: see the quotations.



freedom of speech ‎(uncountable)

  1. The right of citizens to speak, or otherwise communicate, without fear of harm or prosecution.
    • 1567, Thomas Stapleton, A Counterblast to M. Hornes Vayne Blaste against M. Fekenham: Wherein is Set Forthe: A Ful Reply to M. Hornes Answer, and to Euery Part therof Made, against the Declaration of my L. Abbat of Westminster, M. Fekenham, Touching, the Othe of the Supremacy. By Perusing vvhereof shall Appeare, besides the Holy Scriptures, as it vvere a Chronicle of the Continual Practise of Christes Churche in Al Ages and Countries, fro[m] the Time of Constantin the Great, vntil our Daies: Prouing the Popes and Bishops Supremacy in Ecclesiastical Causes: And Disprouing the Princes Supremacy in the Same Causes, Leuven: Apud Ioannem Foulerum, OCLC 606537205, book III, chapter xxi, folio 308 (verso):
      S. Iohn the Baptiste, who died for the lyke liberty and fredome of speache, as S. Quillian, and S. Lamberte did.
    • 1689 December 16, Bill of Rights (1688 chapter 2, 1 William and Mary, Session 2)[1],, The National Archives:
      That the Freedome of Speech and Debates or Proceedings in Parlyament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any Court or Place out of Parlyament.
    • 1720, John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, Cato's Letters, page Letter Number 15, Of Freedom of Speech, That the Same is inseparable from Publick Liberty:
      All Ministers ... who were Oppressors, or intended to be Oppressors, have been loud in their Complaints against Freedom of Speech, and the License of the Press; and always restrained, or endeavored to restrain, both.
    • 1940, Frank Murphy, Thornhill v. Alabama, Supreme Court of the United States, page 310 U.S. 88:
      The freedom of speech and of the press, which are secured by the First Amendment against abridgment by the United States, are among the fundamental personal rights and liberties which are secured to all persons by the Fourteenth Amendment against abridgment by a state. The safeguarding of these rights to the ends that men may speak as they think on matters vital to them and that falsehoods may be exposed through the processes of education and discussion is essential to free government. Those who won our independence had confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning and communication of ideas to discover and spread political and economic truth.
    • 1969, Abe Fortas, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, Supreme Court of the United States, page 393 U.S. 503 (1969):
      First Amendment rights, applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment, are available to teachers and students. It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.
    • 1997, Wendy Grossman, Net.wars, New York University Press, ISBN 0814731031, page 90:
      One question that remains is at what point an individual Net poster has the right to assume prerogatives that have traditionally been only the province of journalists and news-gathering organizations. When the Pentagon Papers landed on the doorstep of The New York Times, the newspaper was able to publish under the First Amendment's guarantees of freedom of speech, and to make a strong argument in court that publication was in the public interest. ... the amplification inherent in the combination of the Net's high-speed communications and the size of the available population has greatly changed the balance of power.
    • 2003, Mike Godwin, Cyber Rights, The MIT Press, ISBN 0262571684, page 2:
      The term free speech, which appears in this book's subtitle as well as in its text, is used more or less interchangeably with freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of expression to refer to all of the expressive rights guaranteed by the forty-five words of the First Amendment, as interpreted by the U.S. courts.
    • 2007 September 26, Green, David L., IQuote: Brilliance and Banter from the Internet Age, Globe Pequot, ISBN 1599211505, pages 113:
      Mike Godwin (1994): Cyberspace may give freedom of speech more muscle than the First Amendment does. It may already have become literally impossible for a government to shut people up.
  2. Used other than as an idiom: see freedom,‎ speech.
    • 1625, Francis Bacon, “Of Simulation and Dissimulation”, in The essays, or Counsels, civil & moral, with a table of the colours of good and evil. Whereunto is added The wisdome of the ancients, enlarged by the author[2], published 1680:
      For to him that opens himself, Men will hardly shew themselves averse, but will (fair) let him go on, and turn their freedom of speech to freedom of thought. And therefore it is a good shrewd Proverb of the Spaniard, Tell a lye, and find a Troth; as if there were no way of discovery, but by Simulation.

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