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Is Freedom Of Speech A Human Right?

I'd like to think that freedom of speech is a basic human right. But two organizations that deal with human rights (well, they have "human rights" in their name) are at best wobbly on the issue. I refer to the UN Human Rights Council and the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC).

The UN body recently passed a resolution that contained a mandate to report on "instances in which the abuse of the right of freedom of expression constitutes an act of racial or religious discrimination …". In other words, things like the Danish cartoons of Mohammed or the Dutch film Fitna. The Sri Lankan delegate rationalized this mandate by saying “.. if we regulate certain things ‘minimally’ we may be able to prevent them from being enacted violently on the streets of our towns and cities.” In other words, the best way to stop violence is to ban anything that makes violent people mad.

In Canada, the CHRC has summoned author Mark Steyn before them on allegations that an excerpt from his book America Alone "subject(s) Muslims to hatred and contempt". In other words, he criticized Islam and is therefore guilty of a hate crime.

One fellow in Canada, Richard Warman, has made a career of making complaints to the CHRC about speech he doesn't like, on the grounds that it is "hate speech".  "Career" is  more than a metaphor here . To date he has been awarded $43500 for his efforts. Among his targets are the website Free Dominion and the blog five feet of fury . On the blog Moderate Separatist he is aptly referred to as a doubleplusidiot  (an appropriately Orwellian epiphet).

Some might argue that some of the examples of censored speech mentioned are genuinely offensive.But if they are devoid of libel, threats, or fraud, there should be no legal sanction against them, no matter how repulsive they are.

Free speech is necessary  if there is to be any fruitful exchange of ideas.One of the standard arguments for free speech is that if the speech you find disagreeable is banned today, someone else might find yours disagreeable tomorrow. But even if someone had an ironclad guarantee that their own ideas would never be banned, it would still be in his interest for opposing viewpoints to be allowed.

Consider the holocaust. I firmly believe, as decent and sensible people do, that the holocaust happened. (Belief in the holocaust is one of those rare instances where political correctness and actual correctness coincide.)    But if I lived in Germany, where it is illegal to deny the holocaust, my belief would not be quite as firm. I'm pretty sure I'd still believe it happened, but a part of me would wonder if there were some evidence against it that was not allowed to see the light of day.  Germany's law probably creates more doubt about the holocaust than it squelches.

Freedom of speech is an essential part of a free society and it is  a fundamental human right. I just wish some of  the folks in charge of human rights knew that.