Free speech has to be for everyone if it is to mean anything, Nick Clegg has said, as he warned against “knee-jerk authoritarianism” in the wake of the terrorist attacks in France.
The leader of the Liberal Democrats commented that “all governments are capable of trampling on free speech”, as he referred to a recent campaign against a vague ‘insult’ law in the UK.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph he said, “in a free society people have to be free to offend each other”.
Responding to the “horrific attack” in Paris, he wrote, “at moments like these, amid the understandable clamour that ‘something be done’, the liberal instinct against knee-jerk authoritarianism is something we would be well-advised to heed”.
He commented: “The freedom that allows someone to criticise an idea – even a religious idea – is the same freedom that allows others to promote it.”
“This is the bottom line: in a free society people have to be free to offend each other.
“There is no such thing as a right not to be offended. You cannot have freedom unless people are free to offend each other”, he added.
He went on to comment that the issue is not “simple”, but said whenever people “peacefully express views which the majority of people find odious, we need to remember what is at stake”.
“Free speech cannot just be for people we agree with. If it is to mean anything, free speech has to be for everyone.”
The Deputy Prime Minister referred to Section 5 of the Public Order Act which was criticised by The Christian Institute for curtailing free speech.
The Institute, alongside the National Secular Society and the Peter Tatchell Foundation, led the Reform Section 5 campaign to call for change.
In 2012 the House of Lords voted to reform the law, and the Government backed down and agreed to a change in 2013.
However, last year Theresa May proposed new Extremist Disruption Orders which faced criticism from the National Secular Society and The Christian Institute on similar grounds.
The groups warned that anyone who criticises same-sex marriage or Sharia law could be branded an “extremist” under the proposed powers.
The EDOs were unveiled ahead of the Conservative Party conference and are set to be in the Party’s manifesto for the May General Election.