“Is freedom of speech always desirable?”

(Follow-up from our Facebook post on the Amos Yee saga.)


1. Identify key words: “always”

  • The modifier “always” makes the premise a narrower and stricter one.
    • Premise: “Freedom of speech is desirable in all circumstances.”
    • The focus of the discussion should be on whether the claim is true “in all circumstances”, not merely whether it is true.
  • The term “always” also already suggests that there is some agreement on the desirability of freedom of speech, but casts some doubt on whether it is the case all the time.2. Pitfalls
  • Essay should not be about:
    • whether freedom of speech is inherently good or bad (see 1.)
    • whether we should advocate free speech.

3. Key issues

  • Is freedom of speech an ideal that should always be embraced and applied? Are there limitations to its desirability?

4. Trigger questions

  • Is freedom of speech generally desirable? Why?
  • Under what circumstances would it be regarded undesirable?
  • In the context of Singapore (or even the broader Asian context), how important is the concept of “freedom of speech”?
    • Examples to consider: Amos Yee’s “offensive posts” on social media and Roy Ngerng‘s articles on the CPF in Singapore, Fillipino nurse‘s comments on Facebook & Anton Casey‘s derogatory remarks on Singaporeans on public transport.
    • Do you think this trend is changing? Why and what are the possible implications?

Possible stands

Stand 1: Freedom of speech is a fundamental right that is always desirable.

  • It is considered by the United Nations and other developed countries such as the US to be a fundamental human right.
    • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNHDR) states in Article 19 that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
    • Similarly, it is also enshrined in the First Amendment to the US Constitution.
  • Denying freedom of speech is comparable to the infringement of other kinds of human rights.
  • Freedom of speech is crucial in establishing a democratic society.
  • Freedom of speech serves as a check to the government and authorities.
  • Embracing freedom of speech for Singapore can truly elevate her status as a First World country.
    • While Singapore has done very well economically, she is often criticized by many Western countries for her “poor human rights record”, as reported by Human Rights Watchin 2015.

Stand 2: Freedom of speech, while desirable under most circumstances, needs to be mitigated by the needs of the society. 

  • The unique socio-political circumstances of Singapore require stronger governmental controls to ensure minimal disturbances to the socio-economic stability.
    • PM Lee Hsien Loong and Kishore Mahbubanihave both used the metaphor “sampan” to describe Singapore, suggesting that any small disturbances could easily topple the country.
  • Freedom of speech, while having merits (students can devote one paragraph to highlight the known merits, using some of the points mentioned in the previous stand), can be abused to cause serious damage e.g. hate speech. In the Singaporean context, speech that can potentially cause social disorder can be injurious to the country’s well-being. This is clearly articulated in the Sedition Act.
  • The assumption that the ill-effects of freedom of speech are only temporary needs to be challenged.
    • Assumption: False information and extremists’ views will be disregarded by the informed majority over time.
  • The Asian perspective on governance and freedom of speech is different from the generally more liberal point of view adopted by most of the West. Interfering with freedom of speech for the greater good of society in the Asian context can be seen as responsible governance.
    • In other words, the costs of having completely no regulation for speech are far too great.

Additional articles on weighing the value of freedom of speech:


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