26 June 2014


Doris Angst

Doris Angst, M.A., DAS in Law is an internationally renowned expert in Human Rights and the protection of minorities against discrimination, racism and xenophobia. Currently she is Executive Director of the Federal Commission Against Racism (FCR) in Berne. And she is the deputy Swiss Expert at the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) in Strasbourg. She is also the Vice-President of the Advisory Board to the Swiss Centre of Expertise in Human Rights. In addition she has worked as expert on behalf of the OSCE and the UN. She has also worked with Palestinians in Israel, with representatives of three monotheist religions in Los Angeles, with asylum seekers in Switzerland, and on migration history, prejudice, and fundamental rights issues. Doris Angst graduated in history and geography from the University of Zurich.

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Guy Stevens

Guy Stevens has worked in the entertainment industry in touring, events and production, as an entrepreneur, and occasional performer his entire life. He created the first regular English-speaking comedy club circuit in a non-native English-speaking nation: Switzerland. Since then English language comedy nights have grown across Europe. And in a new twist to internationalism, Stevens now presents regular French-comedy club nights for London's francophone audience. He is also developing Swiss comedians in their quest to conquer the English-speaking world. Coincidentally, he also revolutionised pet couture in the Swiss retail market (today pampering Swiss pets with luxury goods is all the rage).

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Dennis Hayes

Dennis Hayes is Professor of Education at the University of Derby and Director of the influential campaign group Academics For Academic Freedom (AFAF), which he founded in 2006. He is an education columnist for The Conversation and was previously a columnist for the Times Educational Supplement and has been a member of the editorial board of the Times Higher Education magazine since its foundation. In 2009 he edited and contributed to a special edition of the British Journal of Educational Studies on Academic Freedom. He writes regularly in the national and international press on free speech and academic freedom. His latest book is The ‘Limits’ of Academic Freedom (2014).

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chaired by:

Monica Fahmy

Monica Fahmy is an investigative journalist, author and instructor in Open Source Intelligence. She is an economist with an additional Master's degree in Economic Crime Investigation. She has worked for national Swiss news media such as Tagesanzeiger, Sonntagszeitung, Facts, Blick and Sonntagsblick. Monica Fahmy is member of the board of the Swiss Experts in Economic Crime Investigation SEECI and founder member of investigativ.ch, the network of Swiss investigative journalists.

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John Stuart Mill

"But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it."

George Orwell

"If large numbers of people believe in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it. But if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them."

Benjamin Franklin

"Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech."

Free Speech With Or Without ‘Buts’?

Ask anyone and they will say without hesitation that they believe in the importance of freedom of speech. Press anyone and they will add a ‘but’…but not for Fascists, racists, homophobes, hate preachers, Islamic extremists …the list goes on and on. Few will argue in a principled way for ‘Free Speech: No Ifs, No Buts!’

Whatever happened to freedom of speech?

Free speech was once seen as a foundational value and one not to be limited even if it caused great offence. Offending the powerful and the privileged was unavoidable if you sought to challenge the status quo and bring about social change and, other than the establishment, no one cared.

Today those who once sought radical social change, the political left, trade unions, feminists, gays and environmentalists are seeking to censor, ban and ‘No Platform’ those speakers whose views they disagree with. Minority groups now ask the state and other institutions to censor views they find offensive and hurtful.

A new culture of sensitivity or conformism?

A culture of inoffensiveness in order to protect the vulnerable seems to be dominant in the first decades of the 21st century. Society may simply have become more caring, sensitive and inclusive. It may simply be more willing to tolerate restrictions on some speech for the greater social good because that is what it takes to live peacefully in a modern multicultural society.

An alternative perspective would be that the dominant ideas today are taken from what were once radical ideas and conforming to them is now enforced by legal means, with the support of former radicals. That is to say free thinking is no longer allowed in the public sphere, not even for the media, academics, comedians and other artists.

What’s your stance on “Free speech with or without ‘Buts’?”







Recommended reading:

  1. Anti-racism law facing resistance from the right
    Swiss Info
    Exposing a dark side of Swiss society to justice or stifling free speech unnecessarily? Twenty years after Swiss voters approved the introduction of anti-racism legislation, the law is facing fresh resistance. A yodeling festival, a cafe, an architect’s website – racist abuse and discrimination can appear in the most innocuous of places. When the incident injures the human dignity of an individual or group, or crosses the line into incitement to hatred or propaganda, it is prosecutable.
  2. Freedom Manifesto
    Freedom of speech is the cornerstone of a democratic society. It is the most important of all freedoms. It is the foundational freedom upon which every other right we enjoy - from the right to vote to the right to protest - is built. Without the freedom to think, write, publish, depict and debate as we see fit, all our political and social rights become meaningless.
  3. The Case for Censoring Hate Speech
    Huffington Post
    The negative impacts of hate speech cannot be mitigated by the responses of third-party observers, as hate speech aims at two goals. First, it is an attempt to tell bigots that they are not alone. Frank Collins -- the neo-Nazi prosecuted in National Socialist Party of America v Skokie (1977) -- said, "We want to reach the good people, get the fierce anti-Semites who have to live among the Jews to come out of the woodwork and stand up for themselves. The second purpose of hate speech is to intimidate the targeted minority, leading them to question whether their dignity and social status is secure.
  4. Turkish politician fined over genocide denial
    A Swiss district court has found a Turkish politician, Doğu Perinçek, guilty of racial discrimination for denying the 1915 Armenian massacre was genocide.
    The court in Lausanne agreed with the prosecutor's demand and handed Perinçek a suspended fine of SFr9,000 ($7,336) as well as a one-off financial penalty of SFr3,000.
  5. Well-ordered societies need to limit free speech?
    American Renaissance
    Professor Waldron declares that “we are diverse in our ethnicity, our race, our appearance, and our religions, and we are embarked on a grand experiment of living and working together despite these sorts of differences.” Western societies are determined to let in every sort of person imaginable... feel respected and equal in every way. “Inclusiveness” is something “that our society sponsors and that it is committed to.”
  6. On the importance of the right to offend
    Kennan Malik
    There is a right to free speech. There is no right not to be offended. People have the right to say what they wish, short of inciting violence, however offensive others may find it. Others have the right not to listen or to watch. Nobody has the right to be listened to. And nobody has the right not to be offended.
  7. Belgium bans a wide range of sexist speech
    Washington Post
    For the purposes of this Act, the concept of sexism will be understood to mean any gesture or act that, in the circumstances of Article 444 of the Penal Code,* is evidently intended to express contempt for a person because of his gender, or that regards them as inferior, or reduces them to their sexual dimension, and which has the effect of violating someone’s dignity. Anyone found guilty of [such conduct] will be punished with a prison sentence of one month to one year, and a fine …, or one of these penalties alone….
  8. International Law
    ARTICLE 19
    Generally speaking, the right to freedom of expression extends to unpopular ideas and statements which “shock, offend or disturb.” Nevertheless, a number of human rights treaties, including the ICCPR, not only permit states to prohibit hate speech but actually require them to do so. In addition, one particular form of hate speech – incitement to genocide – is one of only a few types of acts recognised as a crime under international law, akin to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
  9. Swiss ban on animal rights adverts overturned
    Strasbourg Observers
    There was the 2001 VgT v. Switzerland judgment, which was near identical to Animal Defenders, where a unanimous Second Section of the Court held that the Swiss ban on political advertising, as applied to an animal rights group wishing to broadcast an issue-advertisement, violated Article 10. The Court in VgT reviewed the usual rationales for political advertising bans, namely (a) ....
  10. Where Do We Draw the Line on Religious Abuse?
    Huffington Post
    Outright bans on religious apparel are a serious limit on free speech and expression, those who support and wear religious clothing must also respect the rights of others to dress and live as they please, and should not be permitted to force their ideology or customs on others, even if they are family members. The problem with respecting the rights of religious individuals to practice their faith as they see fit while defending the rights of others to live free from religious compulsion is that....
  11. Putin Signs Law Banning Curse Words in Arts and Media
    Time Magazine
    Russia will levy steep fines, as high as $1,400 for organizations and $70 for individual offenders, against potty-mouthed reporters, writers and artists. Repeat offenders could face steeper fines and a 3-month suspension of business....
    A panel of obscenity experts will define the finer points of the law, deciding which words could damage the Kremlin’s stated goal of “protecting and developing language culture.”
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