It is said that freedom of speech doesn’t protect speech you like; it protects speech you don’t like. The freedom includes the freedom to hold opinions and ideas without interference by public authority.
Without free speech, no other rights can prosper: if it is silenced, one cannot claim, assert or defend any other right.
However that doesn’t mean there aren’t competing rights for people to live in peace and be free of harassment and it doesn’t mean that there is freedom to inflict mental and physical harm on others at will. You might have the freedom to insult and harass others, but you don’t have a right to do so.
Clearly freedom of speech cannot be absolute. The fact that we have laws relating to slander and defamation show that there are limits to what can be said or done.
In a democratic society there are other interests that must be carefully guarded against the excesses of some. These include the interests of national security, territorial integrity, public safety, the prevention of disorder or crime, the protection of health or morals and for the protection of the reputation or the rights of others.
There is also an inevitable balancing exercise that must be undertaken between the freedom to speak your mind as against the prospective harm or damage that will be caused by what you say.
Recently we have endured the ramblings of wanna-be Nazis in the streets of some Australian cities. These brave young men who are so convinced of their position that they hide their heads and faces under masks and hoods and wait for the inevitable reaction of passers-by and police.
The first thing to remember is that these people are advocates of genocide, repeat, genocide. Their very presence is meant to and does, incite pain and horror, and not only amongst our Jewish population. Most of us recognise that they advocate the return of the darkest, foulest behaviour engaged in by human kind and a time in history that shames every member of the human race.
There is no place in civilised society for these historical throw-backs. In their race to the bottom they have had their day and they have failed. Their bellicose speeches, their ridiculous costumes and their straight arm salute would be laughable if it were not for the lessons of history. They are the seeds of a cancer that must be excised and not left to fester in our community any longer. We are stronger and better than that.
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