Ethical concerns are the standards governing freedom of speech which, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, which means the freedom to hold his or her opinion without interference and to seek the same through the media despite borders.” However, this was not universal, since it is thought or presumed that certain nations or societies are more likely to do something and to talk honestly than others. For eg, it is assumed that Americans appreciate free speech, allowing them to translate more ideas within themselves, thereby enhancing their wealth relative to other types of society or culture. (Mill’s) With that in mind, ethics has it that in pursuant to freedom of speech, the idea of limitation of freedom of expression cannot be refuted as its moral obligation has to be considered. This leads to one wondering then, where do we draw the lines? Despite there being no clear lines of ethical contexts limiting freedom of speech, this rights have greatly been limited and the consequences are devastating. They are experienced literally in almost every aspect of life ranging from media, public, schools and workplace.
Most if not all governments have come up with laws in regards to freedom of expression, of which according to Mills must be enjoyed in totality regardless of the consequences. That is if we have full freedom of speech, we are in a position to express ourselves and argue out to our logical limits, thus enhancing our dignity. But by limiting our freedom, they lower our integrity as it is a kind of intellectual pacification that kills moral courage in human kind. (Mill) However this has not stop governments from introducing limits which are thought to be moral right in preventing harm to others (Broun)
Apart from governments and general public, these limitations of freedom of speech have been extended to our institutions of higher learning. Today colleges and universities in the U.S. have restricted freedom of expression siting safety and providing an enabling environment for studies. While this is perfectly logical and rational as students must feel secure in their quest to attaining knowledge, it should not be taken as this is an assurance realizing this goal as most institutions have been found guilty of taking advantage of such limitation to come up with oppressing rules and laws as well as poor quality services to students. Such conditions are unpopular to students as they make them uncomfortable hence feeling unsafe. This would then force them to engage the government or other relevant authorities to have their issues addressed by the school administration. (Mill) speech is not about pleasing someone but rather, free speech is of such great value that goes beyond rules. If the utilitarian could see the importance of free speech, it leaves one wondering what makes it difficult for administrators in the U.S education system to see it. It is therefore important that we ought not to provide conflicting ideologies so as to avoid getting ourselves in some complications.
Furthermore, freedom of speech at our places of work is equally restricted; however limiting freedom speech at this point is not necessarily ethically wrong due to need for professionalism as well as creation and maintenance of a conducive environment for the business. The issue here begins when the speech you make at your home or anywhere else, gets to your place of work. This could be through social media where some employers monitor their employees. When such values as political party affiliation or religious beliefs are not shared, your right to freedom of speech is most likely not going to be respected. Such liberty may not be given at work place as some employees could feel that, your freedom of speech and expression of ideas could prove dangerous by causing divisions in the team. But boing by William James’ pragmatism, employees should not be judged or be victimized simply because they said something divisive or contrary to their employer. Instead they should assess the impact, that is did the speech result into something positive or negative to the company. At this point therefore, free speech which does not have any negativity is permissible, where as a speech which damages the reputation of the company regardless of it being ideally or morally right, it should not be endorsed. (william)
Businesses may differ in the way they contact their activities, having different ideologies, mission and vision, but the idea is to what extent should the prevailing differences be acted upon? However despite standoff, many corporations are engaging in team building appreciating their employers’ diversity and getting them to identify with each other. Some businesses are even going a notch higher encouraging their employees to express their freedom of speech without fear of intimidation.
It is therefore imperative that voicing one’s opinion or speaking out your mind is paramount in fighting for rights and freedoms that are under attack in the contemporary society.
Broun, Rebecca L. “the harm principle and free speech.” bepress legal resposity (2016): 89-110.
Mill, john. On Liberty. UK: Penguin books, 2010.
William, James. Pragmatism and Other Writings. New York: Penguin, 2000.