Focusing on the recent controversy over the Charlie Hebdo cartoons and massacre, I will explain why it is crucial that we protect speech that is clearly hurtful and that may well lead to serious consequences. There are several reasons why hurtful speech should be highly protected including the market place of ideas, the promotion of self-government, the necessity to individual autonomy and the fear of government abuse. I will walk through these quickly and make the case for vigorous protection of speech even when it clearly causes serious societal harm.
I have taught Constitutional Law and Freedom of Speech and Religion at the Dedman School of Law for the past 36 years. I teach a course in Comparative Freedom of Speech: US and UK in the Law School’s summer program at University College, Oxford. I have recently published two books on the Supreme Court and Constitutional Law with the Oxford University Press—Methods of Interpretation (2009) and Do Great Cases Make Bad Law? (2014). I am a passionate defender of freedom of speech which I believe is always under assault.