Copyright

What is Freedom of Speech? - Definition, Amendment & Rights

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore freedom of speech. An inalienable right preserved for U.S. citizens by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, freedom of speech is modified, given, or denied by most countries.

Rights

In modern America, we have so much freedom and so many rights it is easy to take some of them for granted. Traveling abroad can change this; it can make some Americans feel out of place because they may not be able to dress, speak, or engage in the same activities as freely as they are able to in America.

One of the most sacred of American rights - so important that it's enshrined in the very first amendment to the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights - is the Freedom of Speech.

Definition

'Freedom of speech' refers to the inalienable right of all citizens of a nation or country to express one's own opinion without fear of reprisal. The term 'speech' can encompass a wide range of personal expression, from actual verbal discourse to writing and distributing pamphlets, to protesting, and - in more recent interpretations - even spending money.

This is usually codified in the basic laws of a nation. For example, in the U.S., it's guaranteed in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as one of the first ten amendments that make up the U.S. Bill of Rights. Assuming a country guarantees a basic freedom of speech, this usually exempts any of its citizens from being arrested, censored, harassed, punished, or in any way persecuted for expressing themselves, however they choose to do so.

First Amendment

In the United States the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech for all U.S. citizens within the confines of U.S. borders. It states:

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.

Examples

While the U.S. government protects U.S. citizens' right to freedom of speech and most things which could be construed as speech, other countries and governments are not so generous. In order to better understand how freedom of speech functions, below we examine its scope in several other countries.

Canada

In Canada, freedom of speech is enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which states that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression. However, while it is generally recognized as very similar to the United States' First Amendment, the section enshrining freedom of speech in Canada specifies these rights are not absolute. Freedom of speech can be limited in Canada if the people and its representatives view a certain limitation as justifiable for the good of the country. These limitations, if made, can also be struck down at a later date.

Denmark

Freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Danish government with one important caveat: any aggressive or degrading remarks made concerning a person's race, ethnicity, or national origin is punishable by a fine or short imprisonment.

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