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Freedom of Expression Must Include the License to Offend

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Debate Details

Heralding the First Amendment, proponents of free speech champion the right to expression unencumbered by government intervention. But is freedom of expression absolute and limitless?  Should we be free to use words with the intention to harm?  Should some words remain unspoken, or does this mind-set lead us to the path of censorship? 

The Debaters

For the motion

Philip Gourevitch

Editor of the Paris Review and a long-time staff writer for the New Yorker

Philip is author of A Cold Case (2001) and We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories From Rwanda (1998), winner... Read More

Christopher Hitchens

British author, journalist, literary critic and public intellectual who is often described as a “contrarian"

For nearly a dozen years, Christopher Hitchens contributed an essay on books each month to The Atlantic. He was the author of more than ten books... Read More

Signe Wilkinson

Editorial Cartoonist for the Philadelphia Daily News

Signe is the author of One Nation, Under Surveillance, and the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1992. Her editorial cartoons... Read More

Against the motion

David Cesarani

Research Professor in History at Royal Holloway, University of London

David is a British scholar specializing in Jewish history and has written and edited over a dozen books. He has advised the British government on... Read More

Daisy Khan

Executive Director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement

ASMA is a non-profit religious and educational organization dedicated to building bridges between the American public and American Muslims. As wife... Read More

Mari Matsuda

Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center and an activist scholar who brings in the outsiders’ perspective

Mari specializes in the fields of torts, constitutional law, legal history, feminist theory, critical race theory, and civil rights law. She was the... Read More

Where Do You Stand?

For The Motion
  • Any limitation of free speech opens the door to government censorship, and consequently grants political leaders the power to suppress dissent and opposing views.
  • The First Amendment safeguards Americans’ right to criticize religious, political or social beliefs or practice regardless of whether or not some may find those criticisms offensive.
  • Censorship does not alleviate existing racism or bigotry; rather, it discourages dialogue between those with opposing views.
     
Against The Motion
  • Freedom of speech is not absolute; it is legally limited to protect Americans’ safety and should be restricted to ensure civility.
  • Speech that marginalizes or disenfranchises specific individuals or communities should be restricted for the good of society as a whole.
  • Technological advances have given individuals an unprecedented power to amplify their voices, and as a society we must act to ensure that this power is regulated and used responsibly. 
     

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