Rights and Freedoms

We all like to be able to do all sorts of things, some of which are not always permitted. For many things, we need, and expect, to have rights and freedoms. According to the various national anthems, Australians are "one and free" and the USA is "the land of the free and the home of the brave". According to the anthem Rule Britannia, which is not heard often in recent years, "Britons never, never, never shall be slaves". Political and social commentators have promoted a concept referred to as "the open society", which is characterised by humanitarianism, equality, and political freedom. Many people have spoken about "inalienable rights", that is, rights that can never be denied. Others speak of "God-given" rights. There is a European Convention on Human Rights, and much legislation in most countries explicitly or implicitly includes rights.

Many years ago, the United Nations issued a Universal Declaration of a bill of rights. But it would be virtually impossible to get world-wide agreement on a set of rights. Several countries disagree with some of the rights proclaimed in the Universal Declaration. Most rejections relate to religion.

What are rights and freedoms?

In practice, a right is an entitlement to do or to be something, that is, to think believe, say, communicate or act in some particular way. Such an entitlement might be assumed, or implied. In many cases, it requires to be formalised by the issue of a licence. Freedom has two aspects, freedom to do something and freedom from being subject to something. Freedom to do is the absence of prohibition to do or be something. Freedom from something implies a right to be protected from it. Almost all rights and freedoms have to be restrained so that they do not allow things that would be contrary to other people’s rights and freedoms. This entails conditions and obligations.

All rights and freedoms are subject to obligations, some of which are ambiguous or informal. Some people will find certain obligations to be onerous. Libertarians often claim that, on principle, there should be no obligations or restrictions, particularly of speech. But, while speaking may not be prohibited, there will always be kinds of speech that will be prohibited or restricted.

Some rights and freedoms and their obligations are ambiguous or informal. Some people have specific rights because of their specialisations, such as police and security officers, professionals in health, law, engineering and other professions. These rights are usually dependent on having specific qualifications, which may impose an obligation of professional conduct. In hierarchical structures, there are rights of rank and command.

People who are under some restriction associated with breaches of the law may be given rights, such the right to be silent. Specified members of temporary investigative organisations, such as royal commissions, are empowered to have access to relevant information that would otherwise be confidential.

Rights and freedoms can be controversial. There is often no clear coordination between the different authorising bodies. Then some obligations may cause confusion or controversy. Freedom of religion is one such case. In these kinds of cases, the process of resolution can be a continuing debate. A similar kind of controversy occurs where national laws override provincial laws and local laws, and when certain laws specifically override other laws. Sometimes the conflict is resolved through litigation, often comparing benefits and losses. This can be tricky when different parties have different sets of values.

The laws that provide entitlements and restrictions are often ambiguous, and therefore may be interpreted in different ways. Different authorities associated with the same set of rules may each have their own interpretation. All of this requires institutions to define, provide and maintain the system. This involves a lot of social and political infrastructure. When that is inadequate, some rights and freedoms are lost.

Who and what are entitled to rights and freedoms?

We usually assume that only humans know about rights and freedoms, and only humans can exercise or experience them. But human rights and freedoms are not only for individual people. Organisations of all kinds may have rights. Examples are the various levels of government, regulatory authorities, commercial companies, and religious institutions. These have distinctive rights and powers. In cases where a medical procedure for a child is considered to be necessary or desirable, doctors or hospitals may sometimes claim the right to act against the wishes of parents. The parents may claim to have "natural" rights due to their status.

Some human rights and freedoms are restrained by social conditions, such as poverty, unemployment, biased and hostile human groups, danger, and nuisance. Wealthy people and people of high social rank are usually able to do things that other people are unable to do. People who are not citizens of the country they are living in usually do not have some rights that the citizens have. Some non-human species have rights and freedoms. Governments may give some domestic and wild animals the right to exist, and to be to properly treated. Most species are not given these rights: we kill many animals, often cruelly, before their natural lifespan.

Pets and other animals may learn or be taught to do things under particular commands or circumstances. They may also discover or be taught what they must not do. In the wild, social animals may have alpha males or females with some privileges or rights, and subordinate members that have obligations. The alpha male may be the only one to have "legitimate" sex with the females, and the alpha female may be the one that decides what the group will do.

Who gives rights and allows freedom?

There is considerable ambiguity as to who gives entitlement, and to whom, and also who imposes restrictions, and upon whom. This occurs within nations and internationally. There are multinational tribunals, such as the United Nations and the International Court, and multinational groups that agree to taking specific actions, such as addressing global warming and help for refugees, and agreeing to restrain from doing such things as killing whales or obtaining nuclear weapons. Some countries do not participate in such agreements.

Local, state, national and international governments all define rights and limitations to rights. They also impose obligations and prohibitions, which sometimes are for limited periods of time or for specific categories of people. Most religions prescribe duties, restrictions, and prohibitions. Any rights and duties they proclaim relate specifically to their membership. These rights and duties may be overridden by government laws. Some may be contrary to rights, duties, restrictions and prohibitions of other religions. Sometimes people talk about their "God-given" rights. There was a report of a person in the USA who claimed to have a "God-given" right to bear arms. Another term for this is being a "sovereign citizen", which implies having inherent unlimited freedom. Some people might regard such "rights" to override the law of the land, but the courts are unlikely to agree.

Many societies have informal codes of behaviour that restrain certain kinds of action, such as queueing instead of crowding and pushing in. These give people some right to fair treatment. They are not enforceable but violating them is likely to incur anger and complaints. Different societies have differing priorities regarding the status and rights of individual people, families, and institutions. Democratic societies usually put emphasis on individual rights and freedoms. Other societies emphasise the society or religion. But there are continual changes in the workings of individual democracies, and in the status of religions.


As mentioned earlier, the fact that certain rights and freedoms are declared by some authority does not necessarily guarantee that everyone is able to exercise them all the time. Some prescribed rights or freedoms might be denied by the actions of other people, or by authorities who are either unaware of the rules or are knowingly ignoring them. This is particularly an issue when there is ambiguity of the relevant rule, or about what actually happened, or different moral opinions.

There are special authorities whose purpose is to ensure that legal rights, freedoms, and obligations are upheld. Such authorities publish the rules, monitor the actions of people and organisations in their jurisdiction, and take action to minimise breaches. This includes the enforcement of penalties, such as imposing fines, restriction of specific actions, or imprisonment. This may or may not prevent the denial of a particular person’s right or freedom or restore it.

Sometimes an authority does not take any action because the case is trivial, at least from the point of view of the authority. There is a phrase used by lawyers, de minimis non curat lex, which means that the law doesn’t bother to address trivialities. Exercising the law may be made impossible by physical conditions, and it may be relaxed where taking action would be harmful.

Rights and freedoms may be taken away temporarily by the relevant authorities following various kinds of incidents. In such cases, they are overridden by more pressing rights and freedoms or by necessity. In cases, such as after traffic accidents, crime scenes or burning buildings, certain rights are taken away for short periods of time, and this is generally accepted. Restrictions are necessary following events such as floods, cyclones, earthquakes, volcano eruptions, and tsunamis. The affected people are usually helpful and understanding.

When bushfires are imminent, the local authorities may order people to leave their homes and go to safe gathering points, or to forbid people to use certain roads that might become impassable. Some people will ignore the authority and opt to stay home to protect their property, or to use the prohibited road. This sometimes costs them their lives. Special restrictions and obligations are imposed in national and global circumstances such as wars, famine, and pandemics. These three situations are very different from each other, but in each case, there will be people who expect to be not affected. Such people often ignore the interim regulations.

In the case of pandemics, with Covid-19, many people in many countries have strenuously resisted the requirements of wearing protective masks, keeping a specific distance from other people, and staying indoors except for reasons of necessity. Such people may regard these constraints to be unnecessary and/or unjustifiable and/or arbitrary. They may claim that these restraints deny them their "fundamental rights" or their "sovereign rights. But in cases of necessity, such supposed rights must submit to whatever has to be done, and disobedience may incur severe penalties.
There are no sovereign rights, except for dictators in their own country.

Kinds of rights and freedom

Rights can be categorised as to do, to have and to be. Freedoms can be to do something and to be free from something.

The conditions for right to do something are:
* specific skills;
* specific knowledge;
* position in a hierarchy:
* membership of a group;
* and/or trustworthiness.

Some of these will require extensive training and/or verification. Examples would be:
* performing medical and surgical procedures;
* operating machines where specific skills are needed for performance and safety:
* providing specialised advice, such as legal, financial, scientific, and technical; or
* working in public and national security.

There are other things that people may want the right to do, for example, to dictate what will happen after they have died. When this relates to distribution of the dead person’s assets, the right may be legally enforced if it is expressed in a valid unambiguous will. But, even then, it may be legally contested on issues such as fairness. But the requested manner of disposal of the body or the music to be played, etc., can be easily ignored, unless there is a condition that determines what happens if the request is disobeyed.

The conditions for the right to have or to own something are having been:
* purchased;
* obtained as a gift;
* authorised as a member of a family or a group;
* authorised as an indication of identity or status;
* been given as a prize;
* inherited ;
* personally created;
* or earned.

The kinds of things we would want to have the right to be include being:
* healthy and be given appropriate treatment;
* safe and be protected;
* cared for, physically, mentally, and economically;
* treated with respect;
* treated equally and fairly;
* and appropriately educated.

A contentious complex issue is whether we have a right, or a freedom, to die when we think it is time to. As a right, euthanasia is usually regarded to comply with the right to be cared for, on the grounds that it eternally removes pain and mental anguish. In certain views, including some religious beliefs, euthanasia may be regarded to conflict with being cared for. As a freedom, euthanasia is painless suicide. If it is taken contrary to the laws to the country, it may be punishable if unsuccessful or apprehended during the process. Religion and libertarianism often disagree on such issues.

Aspects of Freedoms

As mentioned earlier, freedoms cannot be absolute, and the condition for a freedom is absence of a specific restriction. And there is freedom to do something and freedom from something. Freedom to do relates to actions, speech, and belief, and also to abstaining from doing. In some cases, it overlaps with a related right to be.

Things that people want to be free to do include:
* assemble peacefully and voluntarily, including to protest;
* engage in and enjoy the pleasures of our culture;
* engage in commercial transactions;
* believe in and engage in a religion and comply with its teachings, subject to other laws;
* say, publish and widely distribute information and opinions without restriction;
* vote at government elections and referendums;
* and travel beyond their normal habitat.

Things that people want to be free from include:
* slavery;
* undue imprisonment;
* danger;
* harassment, unfairness and imposition;
* undue discrimination;
* undue personal physical constraint;
* threats;
* unsafe, unhealthy and unpleasant environments; and
* undue loss of privacy.

The concepts of undue and unfair are subjective.Most of these rights and freedoms are complex and their formal statements may be ambiguous. They have to accommodate the wide range of situations, needs, preferences and beliefs of all the people they affect. And there must be enough resources to fulfil them. There are conditions where obligations attached to specific rights can be exempted, such as medical conditions and physical handicaps. Different tribunals will make different judgments of a particular issue. Different regimes have different degrees of lenience in what they allow and what they forbid. Authoritarian regimes often reject rights and freedoms that, for most people, are essential for a humanitarian society.


Rights, freedoms, and their associated obligations are established to enable, protect, and enhance the welfare of the state, and of its citizens, its organisations and its territories. So it is important that the laws that provide them are obeyed. There are more laws than most people can remember, so people may infringe some of them out of ignorance. Most people intend to observe the law, but some will occasionally break a minor piece of legislation as a matter of convenience. Some people casually ignore the law and some blatantly flout it. Such actions that are contrary to the obligations of the law are discouraged, and, where possible, prevented.

Discouragement includes penalties, such as imprisonment, which curtails some rights and freedoms, and fines, which reduce the range of what the culprit can buy. Imprisonment also prevents or reduces the ability to continue the infringement during the prison term. There are also minor penalties, such as having to perform a specific amount of an assigned action. There may also be an obligation for the culprit to reimburse the costs of damages incurred. The penalty often includes an element of revenge.

Preventing breaches of rights and freedoms usually means banning the ability or the means to do it. This will depend on the kind of right or freedom that is banned. All this, of course, applies to all cases of crime.


Rights and freedoms, and penalties, should be logically justified, particularly if they are likely to have awkward or dire consequences.
Denying rights and freedoms also should be justified. Justification can be difficult. And once decisions are made, it may be very difficult to stop or control or reverse any that turn out to have bad outcomes. The virtues and downsides will often be contested. All sides may propose unlikely or outlandish adverse consequences. Weighing the balance may be difficult and controversial.

There are more kinds of rights and freedoms that I could fit into this essay. So I will discuss only two: religion, and freedom of speech.

To discuss the rights and implied freedoms of religion, it will be necessary to discuss what religion is. There is religion and there are religions. Religion is belief or faith in some system of ideas that concern morality and has rules for requiring and prohibiting specific actions relating to that morality. This refers to personal beliefs. A religion is an institution that accepts and acts in accordance with a specific set of religious beliefs. What we call freedom of religion refers to the religions and their members.

Most religions proclaim the existence of a powerful supernatural entity that has prescribed these ideas and actions. In most cases, the supernatural entity is believed to actively engage in what happens in the material world. Belief in such an entity is generally regarded to be an essential part of religion. The proclaimed power of the supernatural entity is often used to uphold the status of religious rights. There is a multiplicity of religions and religious sects, each with its own beliefs, obligations, and prohibitions. In most religions, individual members often choose how much emphasis and credence to give to each item of belief and each obligation. Each religion regards its beliefs to be "more true" than those of other religions. Each regards its rules and ritual practices to be sacred.

There are a few new institutions that claim to be religions, but their authenticity is often not accepted. Scientology, voodoo, and pantheism are not accepted as religions in some countries. Pastafarianism, a non-spiritual religion created by Atheists and Agnostics, has churches and clergy, and "worships" the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It has been accepted as a religion by the parliaments of Poland, The Netherlands, and New Zealand, but not Australia. One of the rights that religions often expect to have is to be exempt from paying rates for the land their churches are on. This is one reason why religions want to be accepted by their countries. It is hard to see any justification for this, and for which religions should have it?

Atheists and Agnostics don't accept the credibility of any other religion, and they claim to have logically justifiable moral beliefs and practices. They expect to have rights and freedoms on a par with those given to religions. They, and many other people, see no reason why anyone should be restricted by any religious law that has no evidentially logical justification. Religious institutions and individual members of religions often expect every aspect of their teachings and practices to be accepted and respected by the society they live in. But the beliefs of the various groups interact with each other and with the laws and rules of governments and other organisations. Some religious rights and practice do not comply with the laws of the land. Some religious rights and practices impact on the rights and wellbeing of many people, such as discrimination regarding employment, social acceptance, abortion, marriage, health, and public safety.

Some religious beliefs conflict with professional or business obligations. Examples would be whether surgeons should perform or refuse such procedures as abortions, vasectomies, female genital cutting or give advice on IVF or contraception. Should pharmacists be compelled to stock contraceptives, or pastrycooks be compelled to put symbols of homosexuality, etc., on their cakes when asked by their customers?
Different people and different administrations will have strongly different answers on these issues. The multiplicity of differences of belief and practices, and their incompatibility, makes it impracticable for all of them to be accepted by the law. And personal beliefs add to the impracticability.

To be accepted by the law, we would expect religious duties and practices to be logically justifiable and to not impinge on people who are not members of the religion. The difficult issue is how to decide what religious rights are justifiable. One criterion might be the consequences of specific beliefs and practices. Another might be assessing what beliefs and practices are truly essential elements of the religion. The criteria of both issues will always be disputed. Ideally, all aspects of each religion that are claimed to be sacrosanct should be examined by independent parties to decide could reasonably be allowed to impinge on people who are not members. There are justifiable reasons why many aspects of the religions should not.

The beliefs and rituals derived from foundational texts, that are claimed to have been divinely revealed at the time when the religion began, cannot be authenticated. Scholars often say that much of the original text has been lost, and the remaining earliest texts have been misunderstood by later translators, and each new copy includes more misunderstandings and new passages. Most current religious texts contain passages that are ambiguous or contradict other passages. Most texts contain passages that accept or require acts that now would generally be regarded to be immoral by many people. Most texts contain statements that can now be demonstrated to be untrue. Additional practices have been developed for institutional reasons. New beliefs have been added when later members of a religion have claimed to have received a divine revelation. These cannot be authenticated. The "revelation" may have been a dream, or a hallucination, or concocted.

In secular societies some acclaimed "sins" are now being regarded to be acceptable by a large part of the community, including many that claim to be believers. Examples are disobeying commandments such as "remember the sabbath and keep it holy", and "don't take the name of God in vain", and attitudes to the range of aspects of homosexuality. So at least these do not seem to be justifiably sacred. So which aspects are essential?

All of this implies that no religious obligations could be justifiably imposed on anyone, nor be exempt from the laws of the land, without fair and logical justification. Unfortunately, religious obligations that do not meet this requirement are often made part of the law, including in secular societies. But some aspects of religion comply with rights and freedom.

The basis, and origin of most religions are worship of God, and love and goodwill towards humanity. "God is Love". In Matthew 22 are the words "Love your neighbour as yourself. There is no greater commandment than this". Many practising Moslems would say that this is also essential with Islam. It could be argued that no belief or practice that contradicts this could be regarded to be sacred.

But this same text begins with saying that you must "love your god with all your heart, and all your mind and all your soul". So, when someone is thought to fail to do this in any way, this can lead to hate and punishment. Harmless beliefs and actions are then deemed to be evil, resulting in discrimination, and even assassination, over victimless thoughts and actions. Another outcome of this is that much social unrest and many wars have been prompted by differences of religion. In societies ruled by a religion, and to a lesser extent in societies where one religion predominates, the rulers or government often decide the rights, freedoms, obligations, and penalties.

Secular societies also have to decide about religious prohibitions and obligations. Non-religious institutions have their own codes of morality. Football and other sporting bodies have strict rules, not only for the game, but also for the way their participants live their lives. Some people treat their favourite game as a religion, both players and followers. Secular institutions sometimes have to address religious and ethical contentions. They sometimes get tangled in individual issues. An example is the sacking, in 2019, of the footballer Israel Folau, a Pentecostalist who used a social medium to say that people who committed some specific "sins" would go to hell. Some people claimed to be victims of his action. He became a victim of it also, and then there was a complex resolution. This matter was not only an issue of freedom of religion, but also one of freedom of speech. And that leads us to the next topic.

Freedom of speech

Freedom of speech, and the lack of it, have been issues for a very long time. A famous example is the execution, in 399 BCE, of the Greek philosopher Socrates, who was accused of "failing to acknowledge the gods that the city acknowledges" and "introducing new deities" because of the logical things he said in public. In the context of freedom of speech, the word speech entails more than oral speech. It can refer to any kind of medium by which any concept can be conveyed to someone. More specifically, speech can be oral, written, pictorial, symbolic or using gestures. Petitions and protests employ combinations of some of these. Different kinds of medium need different appraisal.

The things that determine whether people want speech to be free or restrained or prohibited are:
* the context;
* the content;
* the manner;
* the purpose; and
* the consequences.

The range of contexts includes private conversations and letters, small and large groups of people, lectures to audiences, preaching, newspapers and journals, social media, books, and entertainment. The more private the speech, the less likely it will be officially restrained or prohibited. Entertainment can get away with speech that would not be accepted in more serious contexts. This relates particularly to comedians and cartoonists. In some cases, the significance and reputation of the author can affect the acceptance of speech. In the Folau case, the context of a prominent footballer using social media increased both its significance and the reaction. Here, widespread public expression of belief by an employee became justification for dismissal. Was this justified by violation of established corporate rules of behaviour, or criticism of the actions of the corporation, or expressing controversial opinion?

Content can be news, fiction, biography, autobiography, politics, education, guidance, science, religion, legal, commercial, advertising, social media, entertainment, humour, critical review, and satire. Speech is challenged or censored if it is considered to be untrue, misleading, threatening, abusive, or defamatory, or it disclosed confidential personal, official, or commercial details. Complaint in these cases would mainly be litigation, by persons, organisations, and governments. Governments often prohibit, and/or penalise, dangerous provocation, dangerous misinformation, disclosure of sensitive material, and unauthorised instructions for making dangerous objects.

Content that is accepted or tolerated in some communities may be prohibited and sometimes severely punished in others. This usually refers to religion, and in particular to blasphemy, homosexuality, "disgusting" words and "disgusting" topics, all of which are victimless crimes. Blasphemy and disgust are very ambiguous concepts, and are often interpreted to suit a particular occasion or purpose. Attitudes on all of these matters can change over time.

The manner of speech can be clear and simple, or clumsy, complex, and hard to understand. It can be formal or informal, and it can be direct or implied. It can be deadpan, poetic, elegant, pretentious, or profuse. and these manners can be used for being provocative, abusing, demeaning, confronting, or insulting. Different manners of speech can influence the way recipients assess and react to the content. Two other kinds of manner are petitions and protests. Petitions are formal requests for specific outcomes. And they may be made by individuals or organised groups. The requests usually include justifying arguments. The organisers use various kinds of media to invite as many people as possible to take an active or nominal part in the petition. Nominal would be making small contributions of money to help fund the associated issue, or adding their name to the list of petitioners. When the organisers feel they have sufficient support, they bring their petition to the relevant authority. This is usually a fairly peaceful process, but it can sometimes be directed against individual people or minority groups.

Protests are gatherings of people in a public place. The place is chosen to have some impact on the general public, and/or to be a place that is significant to the authority being petitioned. Some or many of the protesters will carry placards with slogans relevant to their cause. The protest is conducted largely in accordance with what each participant decides to do, but with a prior general agreement about how the participants will behave. This may be peaceful or aggressive. And the agreement will not always be accepted by all of the protesters. The protest will usually inconvenience or disrupt nearby public and official activities.

Peaceful protests can become aggressive in various ways. Some participants may wish to be aggressive. Sometimes the disturbed general public may become hostile. Sometimes the police may try to disperse the participants and cause a hostile reaction. Just what will happen can be hard to predict. Some protests last for weeks and can become indiscriminately destructive. Different authorities have different rules about what is permissible, and about what action is to be taken with the different kinds of breaches.

The main purposes of speech are for conversation, requesting, entertaining, self-expression, education, information, instruction, praising, denouncing, abusing, threatening, and defrauding. A mischievous hoax might be done for fun, or for troublemaking. Different societies will have different attitudes to the various purposes. There is a recent kind of speech, called "woke", that some people use with the purpose of "punishing" speakers and writers who have made statements that are contrary to their beliefs or inclinations. Sometimes innocuous or normally accepted statements are attacked. Woke usually distorts or maligns the logic of the targets, encourages mass condemnation, and discourages logical discussion. It often demands that the speakers and writers be "cancelled", that is, removed from their occupations or be publicly condemned. Some noted speakers and academics have lost their jobs and/or their credibility. Woke is hypocritical and denies freedom of speech.

Speech can be deliberately or unintentionally insulting or ambiguous. Some people have an innate propensity to see objectionable intensions that were not meant, or not there. The contentious Folau Instagram that I mentioned earlier, read : "WARNING Drunks, Homosexuals, Adulterers, Liars, Fornicators, Thieves, Atheists, Idolaters [he forgot Agnostics] HELL AWAITS YOU. REPENT! ONLY JESUS SAVES". Whatever its purpose, this does not seem to display the love and compassion proclaimed by Christianity. Folau and his supporters said that it was part of his religious freedom to express his beliefs by quoting from the bible. To the people who felt it was addressed to themselves, it was a purposeful condemnation and an insult.

This raises the issue of the purposes, and justifications, of the various kinds of display of religion, from wearing jewellery or clothing displaying a crucifix or other symbol of a religion, to wearing specific clothing such as a clerical collar or a burqa, to notices with simple messages such as "Jesus loves you", to preaching in the street, and to making public accusations of immorality. Resolving contentious expressions of morality, false accusations, and defamation, combined with the propensity of participants to be self-righteous or offended, is seldom easy. Whatever the item of speech may be, there is always some possibility that it will have unexpected consequences, which may be good or bad.

Speech is censored by governments, religions, business, social and sports organisations, schools, libraries, shops, and activists.
Different media are censored in different ways. Misleading speech, such as disinformation and conspiritory theories, is very hard to censor. Once it is noticed, some people will accept it and propagate it. Printed material may be banned from publication or import into the country or seized and burnt. Authors and booksellers may be prosecuted. For a few centuries, the Catholic Church had a list of prohibited books. Lecturers may be banned from entering a country, drowned out by groups of people, and blockaded from their venue. Audiences may be blockaded. Words or topics may be removed from printed texts, radio, television, film, or live entertainment, but be then accepted in another or the same medium. Social media can be removed or corrected by the owners of the various platforms, who will not do so unless governments or users demand it. In some media there are ratings for "mature" and immature" audiences. All of these may be advisory or enforced. All can be controversial.

There are various kinds of law concerning public gatherings. These may restrict protests, and also militant and anti-government groups that try to build up memberships. The ultimate action against these gatherings includes severe physical restraint. But protesters often oppose such restraints, sometimes violently.


Reasons given to justify censorship vary between cultures and with time. The main issues for books are:

* national security;
* racial issues;
* encouragement of damaging or "undesirable" activities – promoting drugs and gambling, etc.;
* blasphemy;
* offensive language;
* sexual references;
* violence;
* religious affiliation and criticism;
* extreme political and social bias;
* and age-inappropriate.

All justifications, and all responses to them, raise questions of seriousness, fairness, and effectiveness. Should hate speech and dangerous ideas be suppressed? Does silencing deny freedom of speech? Is silencing counterproductive? Activists get publicity from silencing, and by disrupting debate. Should all sides discuss all issues together, with independent coordinators? There will be different beliefs about the balance of benefits and damage in each case. There will always be influences, by individual people, institutions or pressure groups.

A classical comment on censorship is, "Our freedom depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost." But the press has the same obligations as other media, which it sometimes flauts. The press is also limited by various influential organisations. "Press barons", owners of media organisations, have a history of suppressing and distorting news and comments that disagree with their opinions or personal interest. There is another classical saying: "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely". And this applies not only to speech, but to all rights and freedoms.


These discussions on religion and speech suggest that there must be both similarities and specific differences between all kinds of rights and freedoms. And in each there is a multitude of uncertainties. People have different degrees of emotion relating to the providing the different rights and freedoms, and their conditions. We all have our own codes of morality, and our desires and our opinions and our weaknesses, and these can change with each different situation. And despite all that I have said, most of us manage to adapt, however loosely, to our community's rights and freedoms, and the associated obligations.

A shorter version of this essay was presented to the Melbourne Agnostics Group on Saturday 13 March 2021

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