Freedom of speech and expression are vital, democratic liberties. As Christians, we should uphold them for the benefit of all people.
We want to see a public square where the right of all people to speak, write and express themselves freely is upheld, including those whose views are not popular with the powerful in society.
Together, we can champion freedom of speech and expression for all, including the freedom to share our Christian beliefs, and encourage respectful dialogue on every issue in life.
Freedom of speech and expression are fundamental human rights protected by international and domestic legislation. The right of citizens to share their views through speech, writing, music, art, and other forms of expression is vital, allowing society to function, change, and flourish. When free speech and free expression are protected and affirmed, every community benefits. And when they are unduly restricted and undermined every community suffers.
We recognise that the state does have a legitimate right to punish some forms of expression. Laws exist to prosecute citizens who incite violence against others, or who commit libel or slander. However, the state should, in our view, always err on the side of more free speech and expression, not less. Sadly, over the last two decades the balance has often tipped the other way. More and more attempts are being made to restrict these vital freedoms.
At a legislative level, equality laws have caused significant problems for free speech. In enshrining specific protections for certain groups in society, the state has enabled a situation where groups come into conflict with one another. In seeking to balance the rights and entitlements of protected groups, some groups necessarily lose out. A hierarchy of rights has been created. At CARE, we believe that all citizens – regardless of their personal characteristics, identity, or beliefs – should be afforded absolute equality before the law. Ironically, ‘equality’ laws undermine efforts to achieve this aim.
Legislative and non-legislative ‘hate speech’ measures have also proved highly problematic. The concept of ‘hatred’ is subjective and hard to define. Attempts to tackle ‘hate speech’ risk catching expression that is merely considered hateful. Beliefs and opinions that are unfashionable or counter-cultural are often circumscribed. Police forces across the UK have increasingly encouraged reporting of non-crime ‘hate incidents’. This enables malicious and false reporting and results in citizens with unorthodox opinions being blacklisted.
In wider society, we are witnessing a chill on free speech and expression. University and college campuses are increasingly censorious, barring the participation of students with socially conservative views from student unions and ‘no-platforming’ speakers with views that are out-of-step with liberal left orthodoxy. Workplaces are demanding employees to give assent to modish political initiatives and chastising those who refuse to comply. And schools are increasingly politicised, demanding a uniformity of views.
This censoriousness in wider culture, sometimes described as ‘cancel culture’, is resulting in more and more court cases centring on speech and expression. Christians are amongst the most affected citizens as they come into conflict with the views of societal elites on issues such as gender, marriage, and sexual ethics. Women are also increasingly embroiled in court action given their counter-cultural stance on transgender issues.
Perhaps most worryingly, citizens across the UK are increasingly tempted to ‘self-censor’ – to conceal their views on contentious issues and decide not to take part in societal debates. This tendency, although understandable in the current, febrile political climate, is dangerous. It leads to less scrutiny and emboldens bad actors. Democracy thrives with debate and disagreement and is diminished in the absence of these things.
CARE believes in the freedom of all people to express the beliefs and opinions without fear or favour. We will continue to fight for laws that respect and provide for freedom of speech and expression and oppose moves to unduly restrict these vital freedoms.
There is more to read from CARE's perspective
In this discussion, CARE's James Mildred hosts a conversation with Chief Executive Nola Leach and Chairman, Rev Lyndon Bowring on the state of free speech in the UK.Watch on YouTube
Explore resources on freedom of speech and expression.
The CARE team discuss the state of free speech in the UK and how Christians should have the confidence to speak the truth in love into our society.Watch
This is part of our Ten Ways to Pray Series.Pray With Us
Free to Disagree opposed controversial ‘stirring up hatred’ offences brought forward by the Scottish Government in 2020 under the Hate Crime Bill. They continue to monitor implementation of the Hate Crime Act and will raise awareness of any negative impact on freedom of speech and expression.Learn More
Free speech is the bedrock on which all our other freedoms rest, yet it is currently in greater peril than at any time since the Second World War. The Free Speech Union is a non-partisan, mass-membership public interest body that stands up for the speech rights of its members.Learn More
Read this brief summary of the law on freedom of speech in the UK.Read More
In a win for free speech, today the Helsinki Court of Appeal has dismissed all charges against Finnish member of parliament Päivi Räsänen and Lutheran Bishop Juhana Pohjola.Read article