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Mill and free speech

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  1. Introduction
  2. Controversy concerning cartons depicting the prophet Muhammad
  3. The debate around 'Free Speech'
  4. John Stuart Mill's principles of 'Free Speech'
  5. The argument around the cartoons
  6. Muslim vs non-muslim views on 'Free Speech'
  7. Conclusion
  8. Bibliography

In 2005, there was a major controversy concerning a Danish newspaper's publication of several cartons that depicted the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Many (both Muslims and non-Muslims) believed the cartoons were racist. Furthermore, many Muslims believe that any visual depiction of Muhammad is blasphemous. There were many protests, and even riots, in defiance of the publication. In response to the uproar, many countries chose to ban the publication of these cartoons (this included banning the sale of foreign newspapers containing the cartoons). John Stuart Mill presents principles describing the value of, and legitimate limits to, freedom, including free speech. This essay will explain these principles and what they suggest about the aforementioned publication bans. From this it will be shown that the ban is not justified, and the cartoons cannot be held accountable for the threat of violence that comes from this exercising of free speech.

[...] Mill is not prepared to place limits on free speech merely because some person experiences harm from the statements of others. There is legitimate and illegitimate harm, and only if some type of speech or expression directly violates rights is it justifiably limited. So for example, a cigarette company should not be able to creating advertising designed to hook children, but it is a far stretch to say that a newspaper should not run cartoons that represent religious dialogue. (Sumner, 2004). [...]


[...] We ought to have this liberty so that we possess ?absolute freedom of opinion and sentiment on all subjects, practical or speculative, scientific, moral or theological? (Mill, 1978: 11). This freedom of expression is needed so we are able to reach our own limits in logic. However, Mill concedes that rules and regulations will be needed to govern the use of free speech. According to him, the limits of free speech are determined by the harm principle. only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.? (Mill, 1978: 9). [...]

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