The divide between religious extremism and free speech

Comments (9)
  1. la nausée says:

    I think you frame the argument a little awkwardly. The issue is not whether bigots and extremists "deserve" a right of free speech or not; Article 14(1) of the Singapore Constitution makes clear that one's having the right of free speech is predicated on the mere fact of citizenship, and not on merit or good behaviour. Furthermore, we are not denying the group from voicing its views altogether; we are (pursuant to Article 14(2)) denying it from voicing its views in a particular way (e.g., taking over an established civil society group opposed to its views).

    In short, the right of free speech is not something that can be granted or taken away. Every citizen has that right, but it may be qualified and restricted by, among other things, concerns of equal participation in public discourse and the need for a secular democracy to preserve its cherished values.

    1. Kelvin_Teo says:

      Dear La Nausee:

      With respect to the legalities and constitutional practice, I would agree that everyone is entitled to free speech.

      The purpose of this article is whether in the case of a bigot who doesn't believe in free speech whether they are entitled to their right from the moral standpoint.

      Sincerely yours

    2. Kelvin_Teo says:

      Hi La Nausee:

      You may like to read Yawningbread's article.

      la nausée says:


      I think the legal-constitutional and moral perspectives are one and the same; everyone is entitled to a right to free speech, subject to restrictions which are reasonably necessary in a democratic society. The right is not something which is conferred or taken away depending on some moral principle like 'Reciprocity'. The point is not merely semantic, but springs directly from the Lockean/Millian liberal tradition emphasizing inalienable rights.

      You raise the example of V for Vendetta, and further cite Kuhnen v. Federal Republic of Germany. Those cases are on the far end of the spectrum, where the speech is aimed at inciting the destruction of the democratic State itself, and where it poses a clear and imminent risk of doing so. In these instances (for example, neo-Nazi propaganda which whips up widespread fervour), there is a case for restricting the right of free speech, in the short-run and for certain individuals, in order to preserve that right in the long-run and for everyone.

      Instances where the 'paradox of intolerance' surfaces must, however, remain highly exceptional, because there is a great risk of doublespeak when we talk about restricting rights of democratic participation in order to promote democracy. The case of a group of religious 'extremists' taking over an established civil society group and trying to influence government policy hardly threatens the very existence of democracy and free speech. So, absent any other threat to public order or national security, limits on the free speech rights of the 'extremists' would not be justified. The whole point of free speech is to permit any one individual or group to influence public opinion and public policy; if one disagrees, then one should rely on 'counter-speech', and not governmental restrictions.

  2. Ng E-Jay says:

    This is my response to the Kent Ridge Common article “The divide between religious extremism and free speech” (07 Sept) by Mr Kelvin Teo.


    Ng E-Jay

  3. sloo says:

    " when the crowd effectively drowned out the voices of Dr Thio Su Mien and her mentees. It definitely didn’t come as a surprise that Thio complained about the rowdy crowd."

    As a volunteer at the AWARE EOGM, what media most reports failed to point out was that the new team was quiet most of the time as they did not have any answers to the questions and accusations raised by the crowd. When they did, their answers were flawed and further attacked by other questions. So instead of saying the crowd drowned them out, we should highlight the fact that the team, just like in many of their previous press conferences and interviews, chose to remain silent in the face of probing questions or sidetrack the issue all together. Check out the videos – u can see the crowd behaving passionately but u can also see that the new team hardly making any attempt to get their point across and answer any of the accusations.

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Established in 2009, The Kent Ridge Common is the independent daily of the National University of Singapore. Writers comprise largely of current undergrads with select alumni contributing to the paper. Opinions expressed are of the writer's own. Please visit our disclaimer page for our terms and conditions.

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