One of the greatest achievements of the Enlightenment in Europe and the United States is the principle of free speech and reasoned criticism. Democracy is underpinned by it. Our courts and parliaments are built on it. Without it, scholars, journalists, and advocates would be trapped, as their ancestors had been, in a verbal prison. It is enshrined in the First Amendment to the US Constitution, in the words
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Without full freedom to express ourselves in speech or in print, none of us could criticize a religion, an ideology, a political party, a law, an academic theorem, or anything else we might feel to be misguided, flawed, or even dangerous. Through it, we are free to worship as we choose, to preach as we see fit, to stand up in a parliament to oppose the government, to satirize the pompous, to take elites down a peg or two, to raise the oppressed to dignity, or to say that anything is nonsense.