VOLTAIRE ONCE SAID that the “right to free speech is more important than the content of the speech.” Freedom of speech is for everyone. It allows each person to freely express themselves and their opinions without fearing retaliation from any parties.  

But have you ever wondered how it all started in the first place? With that said, it’s time to look at the broader picture of how freedom of speech evolved from ancient times to the present. 

Ancient Greeks (5th Century B.C.) 

Photo courtesy of Khan Academy

It all dates back to the context of freedom introduced to us by the Greeks, the slave-free environment had been overwhelming and surprising, yet it played its role in the society we live in today. Because the context of “Freedom” was so new during this period, it made people realize how “servitude” and “bondage” have revoked their meaning in society.  

Since ancient Greece advocated for free speech, this helped introduce people to their love for literature, theater, institutions for human educational experiences, and questioning authority like any other contemporary society. Of course, it didn’t initiate complete freedom of speech. Nevertheless, they still became the stepping stone for future democrats to learn the value of expressing oneself. 

Art. 19 of the UDHR (1948) 

Photo courtesy of UN News

In our rapidly growing society, it’s no surprise how diverse a community is, but it seems that many of us haven’t learned the value of inclusivity.  Decades may have passed, but are we genuinely inclusive enough that we’ve learned from the past of slavery and oppression? 

Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is amended for one reason: the repression surrounding intercultural communities worldwide. This is where people challenge power structures that are integral to societies, thus the emergence of censorship in society, which even allowed the powerful to hold more power against the oppressed. This is also why in 1791, the First Amendment from the Universal Declaration took a toll on the governmental authority and the power that each individual held, paving the way for Article 19 of the UDHR that we know now, empowering the ideas and no longer withholding opinions which seeks information, opinion, and information through media and many more platforms that are out there. 

Free Speech Movement (1964-65) 

Photo courtesy of The New York Times

One of the most celebrated phenomena in college history may be “The Free Speech Movement’ of the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkley), where students are famously known for their fight for speech and academic freedom. This also sparked student activism in the hearts of collegiate people worldwide. 

By December 1964, 5,000 people had gathered outside the administration to listen to Mario Savio. The main goal of The Free Speech Movement is to have the university lift the ban on on-campus political activities and support the students’ right to free speech and academic freedom. 

First Amendment (December 15, 1971) 

Photo courtesy of History.com

Under the fourth American presidency of the late James Madison, the first amendment was established. Through the ratified Bill of Rights, the amendment acknowledges the freedom of an individual to express his religion and speech freely alongside the importance of the press alongside a peaceful petition. Hence, the incorp of individuals’ liberties to a country’s constitution was done. 

This shows how important it is for the government to recognize and respect the differences within its country. Hence, congress is not allowed to create laws that would either ban or alienate someone for their opinions and beliefs. Freedom of speech should be a right for everyone regardless if people may agree or disagree with them. Whether it’s about politics or just simply something that is part of a person’s life, such as religion, or gender, all of these have to be respected. 

The #MeToo Movement  

Photo courtesy of Vox.com

This all started with a woman named Tarana Burke, who thought of the words that deal with women overcoming sexual harassment and assaults. This term, however, reached its popularity when Alyssa Milano posted on Twitter encouraging those who fell victim to former film producer Harvey Weinstein’s sexual abuses to type ‘Me Too’ to shed light on the problem. As a result, many women posted numerous tweets about being harassed by Weinstein. 

With the help of freedom of speech, mainly on social media such as Twitter, people could connect easily because of someone making the first move, freely speaking for the rights of others. And with that, it shows how freedom of speech also helps the rights of others to protect themselves. 

Freedom of speech has not only progressed throughout the years. It is now practiced almost everywhere. However, we may still have a long way to go. There are still demonstrations and protests where the police interfere at times without semblance of legality. There are still countries that have succumbed and are controlled by their autocratic governments. Nevertheless, as humans, we must continue to fight for what is right to accomplish the ultimate goal, where everyone will be given the right to speak freely.  

Remember the following statement from the United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights,  “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

 (with Shelly Bocabel)


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