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During the past few months I've seen a few news items about Europeans not having that much freedom of speech online, specifically in the UK. Americans, on the other hand, always pride themselves on their Freedom of Speech amendment. It got me thinking if there are no other countries that make it completely legal to say anything, even if it's offensive to someone else.

Of course, I'm not considering literal calls for violence as "freedom of speech", as I believe that would be a crime, even in the US. I'm more concerned about being able to express any idea, about anyone or anything, and not being charged or punished in any way for it.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Sam I am Aug 14 at 16:55
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    There is an important misconception in your question, since you state "calls for violence". You are perfectly entitled to call for violence, or insult or defame anyone you like, even in the "not so free" states of the EU. However, having freedom of speech does not mean that you will not be criminally prosecuted for what you say. These are 100% different, unrelated things. – Damon Aug 15 at 17:35
  • I feel as this is currently written the title should be reworded as it is tautological. No country can protect freedom of speech "as the united states" without being the united states. Perhaps change it to "as strongly as the united states" or "with as few conditions as the united states" – Vality Aug 15 at 22:02
  • @Damon That doesn't make sense. Being able to speak and then get arrested doesn't make it "free speech". Could you explain what you mean? – Fermi paradox Aug 19 at 12:17
  • @Fermiparadox: It certainly makes sense. You are perfectly allowed to shout "I have a bomb" at an airport (whether that's true or not). Only just, if you do, you will be arrested in the best case, and gunned down right away in the worst. You are allowed to say that the president of Turkey has intercourse with sheep (which is what a comedian did some 2 years or so ago). But if you do, you will have to give a good explanation as to why this qualifies as "work of art" in court. The fact that you are allowed to say things doesn't imply that others want to hear them, or there are no consequences. – Damon Aug 19 at 16:51
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Of course no other country protects freedom of speech "as the United States do." They have their own rules which are not quite the same. Some give equivalent protections, some do not.

There is a tendency to see the restrictions on freedom of speech (or other freedoms) which apply in your country as just common sense and as properly safeguarded by courts. Despite the words of the First Amendment, it is illegal to shout "fire" in a crowded theater, or to make misleading statements in a stock prospectus, or to raise funds for a terrorist group.

For that matter, Americans can be fired by their employer because of their speech -- the employer is not bound by an amendment which restricts Congress from making laws and labor protections are weak.

Other countries have other restrictions. An episode of Star Trek was not aired in the UK because of some off-hand remarks about Irish terrorists. (The BBC, a public broadcaster, is not a government agency but part of the state structure.) In Germany, the Nazi party and their symbols are still banned in political propaganda 74 years after the war.

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    It's worth noting that "Americans can be fired by their employer because of their speech" is not equivalent to "shout fire in a crowded theater" which would be forbidden in most places; because in Europe generally private employers would not be allowed fire employees for their speech. So it's a very real freedom-of-speech issue that USA doesn't protect but other countries do. – Peteris Aug 13 at 10:02
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    Was the Star Trek episode not aired because the government disallowed it, or because the BBC chose so? (Honest question, I could not find the answer.) If it is the latter, the USA implementation of freedom of speech would not have prevented this, just as it did not prevent the censorship in the South Park episode with images of Muhammad, censored by Comedy Central. – Pakk Aug 13 at 10:31
  • @Pakk from what I've read it does seem to be the BBC who chose not to show it. – Muzer Aug 13 at 10:51
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    Germany bans symbols and propaganda material of recognized unconstitutional organisations, not just the Nazi party. I.e., freedom of speech gets limited at the point where it goes against the free democratic basic order. – DevSolar Aug 13 at 12:00
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Sam I am Aug 14 at 16:56
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ECHR Article 10 applies almost everywhere in Europe:

Article 10 – Freedom of expression

  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.

  2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

The caveats in the second part look more restrictive, but as you've said yourself the US has or has had speech restrictions on all sorts of specific items for national security etc. reasons. US obscenity law in some states may be more restrictive than that of some EU countries, for example. Or the recent SESTA/FOSTA laws.

These days when people argue about speech it is important to take a close look at which kind of speech they're defending specifically; one of the key current battlegrounds is "indirect" incitement to violence. How close to calls for murder can people get?

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    It's worth noting the US Supreme Court said incitement to riot (which takes no position on the other parts of the content) is not protected. It's also worth noting that 10.2 basically negates 10.1. The EU, for instance, is fine with convicting people for saying things Muslims don't like. The way it's worded is that the EU likes free speech, except when it doesn't. – Machavity Aug 13 at 13:00
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    "How close to calls for murder can people get?" In the US, you can actually call for someone to be murdered. The imminent lawless action test restricts this, but if I make a bunch of tweets about how specific rich people should be drawn and quartered and their assets seized, I cannot be prosecuted for it. – eyeballfrog Aug 13 at 14:09
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    Thinking about it more, this answer is disingenuous. It totally ignores the criminalization of an entire class of political speech that exists in the EU, which the OP is specifically asking about, in favor of saying "well, the EU also has slightly different interpretations of the same speech restrictions the US has that might sometimes be less strict, so they totally protect speech just as well as the US". – eyeballfrog Aug 13 at 15:46
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    @eyeballfrog My argument is that "criminalization of an entire class of political speech" does not actually exist in the EU, but a few cases where people are trying to mislead others for the purpose of incitement are misreported as that instead. – pjc50 Aug 13 at 16:16
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    10.2 leaves room for such broad interpretation, I would hardly call that equivalent - especially that odd clause about "health or morals." So I don't think this answers the question. – Ella Aug 13 at 17:46
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Are there really no countries that protect Freedom of Speech as the United States do?

The question is poorly framed. I interpreted it such that you imply that the US is at the top of some "Freedom of Speech" measurement. However, nothing comes even close to a universally accepted "Freedom of Speech" index which could provide us with a preorder.

The one thing that comes anywhere close to such an index would be the World Press Freedom Index, but note the "press" in there. For 2019, the US occupies the 49th place – out of a total of 180 countries. This is right ahead of Senegal, but behind Romania.

For a quick overview, here is a part of Reporters without borders' world map, with bright color indicating press freedom, courtesy Reporters without borders and OpenStreetMap: The world map, coloured by World Press Freedom Index ranking, cropped to the Western Hemisphere.

When it comes to culture, it should be noted that saying the word "fuck" and its relatives on TV is such a contested issue in the US that the Washington Post, a US-based newspaper, calls the situation "complicated", while european countries seem to be more relaxed about this.

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    Here is the detailed page by Reporters without Borders on the United States. Their critique is not so much the on-paper legal situation but mostly criticizing the executive branch of the government, accusing them of inciting hostility against the press and not protecting the press from violence. – Philipp Aug 13 at 12:20
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    This is a pretty bizarre answer. The question is about freedom of speech between the US and other countries, specifically "if there are no other countries that make it completely legal to say anything, even if it's offensive to someone else." And this answer is basically about whether you can swear on broadcast TV or whether the press is happy with Trump criticizing them - neither of which has anything to do with whether simply saying something is legal. – Kevin Aug 13 at 15:02
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    Freedom of speech and freedom of the press (which isn't limited to the media industry) are not the same, though they are related. Publication, as part of the press, has become more free than it used to be. The RWB ranking has nothing to do with protections on free speech (the subject of the question) and everything to do with their relationship with the president. – gormadoc Aug 13 at 15:26
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    @Kevin A solely legalistic approach is doomed to be worthless. You can write a lot of letters on paper, you know. North Korea's president is elected – according to its constitution, that is. – knallfrosch Aug 13 at 18:30
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    @IllusiveBrian 1. You don't need to throw journalists in jail to rank behind Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein (among others.) 2. Are you suggesting that the relationship between an organization that represents journalists and the head of the executive branch is irrelevant to the question at hand – "protection of freedom of speech"? – knallfrosch Aug 14 at 6:17
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A look through Wikipedia's article on hate speech laws by country suggests that there is one other country that does not criminalize "hate speech": Japan.

Japanese law covers threats and slander, but it "does not apply to hate speech against general groups of people". Japan became a member of the United Nations International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 1995. Article 4 of the convention sets forth provisions calling for the criminalization of hate speech. But the Japanese government has suspended the provisions, saying actions to spread or promote the idea of racial discrimination have not been taken in Japan to such an extent that legal action is necessary. The Foreign Ministry says that this assessment remains unchanged.

...

In May 2016 Japan passed a law dealing with hate speech. However, it does not ban hate speech and sets no penalty for committing it.

Japan has other restrictions on speech that the US does not have, in particular regarding censorship of pornography.

Otherwise, no. All other countries restrict political speech under the guise of "hate speech" or blasphemy.

  • The question is about protecting freedom of speech, not about not criminalizing speech. – David Schwartz Aug 14 at 0:37
  • One restriction is that Japan has garenteed protection for flag burning of the Japanese Flag only. If you burn another nations flag and that nation complains, Japan will charge you with a crime. In the U.S., a judge will politely tell the complaining ambassador to... er... engage in a physically impossible act of fornication. – hszmv Aug 14 at 14:03
  • @DavidSchwartz: "Not criminalizing speech" is a subset of "protecting freedom of speech." – Kevin Aug 14 at 17:50
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    @Kevin I guess that's an argument that someone could make, but I don't buy it. At a minimum, it's a completely different category of "protecting" in response to a question that asks about countries that protect "as the United States does". Merely not criminalizing something is in a completely different category from affirmatively protecting it in ways that, by deliberate design, require great difficulty to remove. – David Schwartz Aug 15 at 2:10
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or punished in any way for it.

The USA may pride itself on freedom from federal limitations on speech, but this does not mean that individual states do not themselves have laws which limit this. Blasphemy laws are still on the books in some states, for example, although it is vanishingly unlikely that they would ever be used.

More significantly though, the USA has a far-reaching and expensive civil legal system. Many well-heeled companies or individuals use threats of legal action, or actual legal action, as a tool for imposing their will on others and suppressing their freedom of speech and freedom to do business. Donald Trump is a prominent user of this tactic. (I trust I don't have to provide citations for this, but I'll list the Stormy Daniels case as one example amongst many.)

The problem is significant enough that the USA instituted anti-SLAPP laws. However even these are expensive to apply. Snopes has had well-publicised issues in this regard, for one recent example.

This does raise the question of what you consider to be "punished". Certainly your chances of being thrown in jail are low. However your chances of losing your job, life savings, house, company or other assets are not so low, and you have essentially no chance to defend yourself legally against a much richer litigant. This could be regarded as at least as serious as anything the state could do.

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    Blasphemy laws were struck down as unconstitutional over 60 years ago. They are null and void, and pointless to bring up. – eyeballfrog Aug 13 at 21:09
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    @qwr Whilst the question asks for "other countries", the fact that it isn't really true for the US makes the terms of reference challengeable. – Graham Aug 13 at 21:15
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    @eyeballfrog Until particular state decides to enforce them anyway. Especially current presidential term is a part of history of US of A is rife with politicians ignoring laws and rulings they don't like. And so far getting away with it. – M i ech Aug 14 at 9:28
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    With respect to Freedom of Speech, Stormy Daniels was not restricted by the government at any time in her speech. She contracted with a private person to keep quiet on the matter for money and Trump is acting through his own private legal resources in enforcing the contract. The government is only being asked to enforce contract law, not any law of censuring speech. – hszmv Aug 14 at 13:53
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    Repealed laws are often published to this date in law books (usually annotated reguarding the repeal) because it may have different interactions with later laws that need to be understood when dealing with contracts or other judgements. Tradditionally, newer editions of law books will have a slash through the lines repealed through it. Consider the 3/5ths compromise in the U.S. constitution, which is still included in reproductions, but was rendered moot by the 13th amendment. – hszmv Aug 14 at 13:59
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I believe the United States is unique is having an affirmative protection for expressive speech that requires a super-majority to override and that applies from the Federal all the way down to the local level and applies to both criminal and civil legal process. By "expressive speech", I mean the advancing of arguments for rational consideration by others.

The United States does not have a 100% perfect record of honoring this guarantee. And, of course, that's the case with any "guaranteed" legal right as it takes humans to enforce that guarantee and, particularly when they really don't want to, humans can find ways to evade their responsibilities.

But nevertheless, the United States is unique in providing this absolute guarantee. There are no arguments that the government can punish you for advancing for other people's rational consideration anywhere in the United States. And this is not just because of the absence of laws prohibiting such things -- in fact, some States have affirmative laws prohibiting such things on the books. It is because there is an affirmative promise in the Constitution that protects that right.

protected by Philipp Aug 13 at 10:55

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