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Free Speech Theory

Understanding the Controversies


Edited By Helen J. Knowles and Brandon T. Metroka

The rallying cry of "Free speech!" has long served as a touchstone for liberals and conservatives, alike, engaged in political polarization conflict and discourse. The democratization of media and the feverish pitch of political polarization, however, have contributed to the weaponization of free expression. From Colin Kaepernick to "fake news," boycotts of partisan television programming to removals of Confederate monuments, internet neutrality to the silencing of college professors and all points between, citizens and pundits all too frequently wield the slogan of "Free speech!" as the sword and shield of political discourse. Oftentimes, ironically they do so with little regard for the views of their opponents. As a result, society risks trading a substantive value for an empty slogan or, far worse, blind authority.To rediscover the underlying assumptions and social values served by free expression, and to move current controversies beyond rhetorical flourishes, Helen J. Knowles and Brandon T. Metroka assemble an impressive group of legal and political scholars to address one overarching question: "Why should we value free speech?" Through analyses of several recent controversies invoking concerns for free expression, the contributors to this volume make complex political theory accessible, informative, and entertaining. Beginning with internet neutrality and ending with an overview of developing free expression controversies in comparable western democracies, experts reestablish the link between free expression and the underlying values it may serve. In doing so, this volume unearths values previously unexamined in our modern—but increasingly impoverished and bitter—political discourse.

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8. Parliamentary and Judicial Treatments of Free Speech Interests in the UK (Ian Cram)


8. Parliamentary and Judicial Treatments of Free Speech Interests in the UK

Ian Cram

In the UK’s system of parliamentary government, leading members of the Executive (such as the Prime Minister and all other members of the Cabinet) sit in the Legislature and are drawn from the ranks of the successful party at the most recent general election. Being supported by the majority of elected members to the House of Commons, the executive is thus able to dominate the legislative program in the legislature and can secure the passage into law of its policy programs. As for individual rights—such as the right to freedom of expression—these lack formal status in a document enjoying founding or constitutional status. The rule of recognition for the UK Constitution is that the law on any given topic is to be found in the latest Act of Parliament. Consequently, personal freedoms remain vulnerable as a matter of practice and obscure as to their fundamental nature: vulnerable because boundaries are subject to statutory incursion by legislators, which is often characterized by inattention to issues of principle;1 and obscure, because disputes that reach the courts, and litigation involving questions about personal freedom, are more often than not settled by the application of canons of statutory interpretation or stare decisis, rather than a deeper level analysis of the autonomy/liberty interests that are implicated in the litigation.

At the outset, the preference that is shared by the legislature...

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