the Irish for rights

Free speech means freedom for the thought we hate

Anthony Lewis 'Freedom for the Thought that we Hate' book cover, via Basic Books websiteFreedom of expression matters most where the expression in question is unpopular: if it it is to mean anything, it must mean “freedom for the thought that we hate” (US v Schwimmer 279 US 644, 655 (1929) Holmes J); it covers not only mainstream ideas which hardly need protection, but also those that “offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population” (Handyside v United Kingdom 5493/72 [1976] ECHR 5 (7 December 1976) [49]). That is why this blog has defended the right to freedom of expression especially when it involves unpopular opinions or unpopular speakers.

There are no more unpopular ideas than the denial of the , and there are no more unpopular speakers than David Irving. Even here, in my view, we should give speech a chance: the best way to ensure that we never forget the Holocaust is to debate it at every turn, not to suppress speech from Irving’s ilk. The Oxford Union got good headlines last year when it invited Irving to debate about freedom of expression. Now it seems that NUI, Galway’s Literary and Debating Society are about to repeat the trick. From the Galway Advertiser [links added]:

Controversial historian David Irving to speak at NUIG?

By Kernan Andrews

David Irving, the highly controversial British historian who spent three years in an Austrian prison under Holocaust Denial Legislation, may be speaking at NUI, Galway’s Literary and Debating Society in March.

‘The Lit and Deb’, as the society is popularly known, has been in correspondence with Mr Irving and he has indicated that he wants to visit NUIG and speak in a debate about his theories.

However, given the nature of Mr Irving’s views, the society will be putting the decision of whether or not to accept him as their guest, to a vote of society members, preceded by an open debate on Thursday January 22.

The debate will be entitled That This House Would Allow David Irving to Speak at This House and will be held in the Kirwan Theatre at 7pm. John Kelleher, the Irish Film Classification Officer, will speak in support of Mr Irving’s right to speak. Derek Doyle, former auditor of UCC’s Philosophical Society, will oppose.

The Lit and Deb’s chief aim is “the provision of a forum for free speech in NUI Galway, where students can address issues of topical and perennial importance without fear of persecution”.

Society auditor Dan Colley said: “There are few people who have tested the boundaries of the right to free speech more than David Irving. This debate is a referendum, of sorts, to see where our members think those boundaries of free speech in university lie.”

It seems that at the January 22 debate, the House voted in favour of Iriving’s speaking later in the year. I thoroughly approve. But, come on guys, don’t be so po-faced. You may indeed be interested in testing the boundaries of free speech, but the controversy is welcome publicity for the Lit & Deb, too; right?

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12 Responses to “Free speech means freedom for the thought we hate”

  1. Eoin says:


    Holocaust revisionist to face trial

    French revisionist historian Robert Faurisson is to face trial on charges of attending an anti-Holocaust conference in Iran. … The French Holocaust revisionist was convicted of ‘Holocaust denial’ by a Paris court in July 2006 over remarks he made on Iranian television.

    Guess what? Freedom of speech means freedom for Faurisson too. He’s just as odius as Irving, but the best way to demonstrate that is by debunking him, and not by seeking to silence him (as by criminalising his ideas, or by putting him on trial for making comments on Iranian television or for attending a conference in Teheran).

  2. […] « Free speech means freedom for the thought we hate Jan 27 2009 […]

  3. […] post is by way of an out-of-date footnote to the previous two. I never thought I’d see the day when I would willingly come to the defence of Michael […]

  4. […] Galway. Having wrapped themselves in the mantle of freedom of expression over their invitation to David Irving, they let the mantle slip last night. Having invited former Taoiseach (Prime Minister) to a […]

  5. […] pre-eminent examples of satirical political dissent. Political speech – in particular when it is unpopular, even in dissent – is at the heart of the rights protected by Article 40.6.1(i) (and by Article 10 […]

  6. […] dissenters can protect their identities, they can express important critical – even, especially, unpopular – views. In such circumstances, anonymity serves a vital democratic function, confronting […]

  7. […] been of the view that hecklers should not be allowed to veto unpopular views, and none come more unpopular that holocaust-denier David Irving. Now comes news that NUI Galway’s Lit & Deb society […]

  8. […] Moreover, I have analysed the kinds of reasons why this kind of speech should not be censored: free speech means freedom for the thought we hate, even that of David Irving (eg, here, here, here, and here), Jean-Marie le Pen, or Kevin Myers, and […]

  9. […] the democratic demands of pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness require that minority views that offend, shock or disturb should not be banned simply for that […]

  10. […] placate those who object loudest. Freedom of speech, if it means anything, requires freedom for the thought we hate, for the words that offend, for the art that calls our very beliefs into question. This is so, even […]

  11. […] of numbers to prevent its exercise. That is precisely when the right is at its most important, and most necessary. As Kearns P (Carney and Hogan JJ concurring) put it in Fleming v Ireland [2013] IEHC 2 (10 January […]

  12. […] nuanced, even if the filtering suggestions are not. I have argued several times on this blog (eg: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6) that we must be careful not to legislate simply because we are offended, and […]

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Me in a hatHi there! Thanks for dropping by. I’m Eoin O’Dell, and this is my blog: Cearta.ie – the Irish for rights.

“Cearta” really is the Irish word for rights, so the title provides a good sense of the scope of this blog.

In general, I write here about private law, free speech, and cyber law; and, in particular, I write about Irish law and education policy.

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