5 Must-Read Essays About Freedom of Expression

In the United States, our right to free speech is protected by the 1st Amendment. However, there’s always been confusion about what speech that amendment applies to. The US isn’t alone in this battle, and freedom of expression – which includes speech as well as nonverbal expressions like art and music – is frequently challenged and pushed all over the world. Here are five essays anyone interested in this issue should read to learn more:

“Why is access to freedom of expression important?”

By: Index On Censorship

If you’ve ever asked yourself this question, this text from Index on Censorship is a good read. The London-based non-profit believes freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, and the essay does a great job of summarizing the barriers around the world, as well as who is most affected by them.

“The Freedom of The Press”

By: George Orwell

While it’s called “The Freedom of the Press,” Orwell isn’t referring to only journalism, per say. This essay was intended to serve as the preface to his work “Animal Farm,” and deals with censorship, societal opinions, and free speech. Interestingly, Orwell doesn’t believe the “chief danger” to free speech and free speech is an official body, like a government or even a publishing house. The real issue is that these entities are afraid of public backlash. If you worry that our “cancel culture” is suppressing freedom of expression, this is a good essay to read closely.

“The Two Clashing Meanings of Free Speech”

By: Teresa M. Bejan

Published in The Atlantic, this essay serves a history lesson focused on the conflict between the two concepts of free speech. Teresa M. Bejan writes specifically about controversies surrounding freedom of expression on college campuses, and suggests that the source of the issue is a battle between isegoria and parrhesia. While both basically mean freedom of speech, their distinction is important. Isegoria means the right of citizens to engage in public debate within the ancient Greek democratic assembly, while parrhesia describes the freedom to say what you want, how you want, when you want, to who you want. The terms’ differences are explored in the essay, as well as how they apply to today.

“JK Rowling was right: free speech is for everyone, not just your friends”

By: Andrew Solomon

While specifically about free speech, the themes in this opinion piece from The Guardian can be applied to any freedom of expression. Solomon specifically refers to a talk given by JK Rowling, where she defended Donald’s Trump right to free speech, even as it outrages many. Citing others like Voltaire, who defended his critics, Solomon supports Rowling’s statement by emphasizing that freedom of speech must be for everyone, and not just the people we agree with. He writes, “When we constrain speech, we contain our humanity.” While it addresses a specific incident, this essay compactly summarizes what many believe is the essence of freedom of speech and freedom of expression.

“Freedom of Expression in the Arts and Entertainment”

By: The ACLU

Looking specifically at the arts and entertainment sector, this essay from the ACLU addresses universal questions about censorship and freedom, citing Supreme Court cases and studies. Everyone will find some art offensive, whether it’s sexual or violent, and there’s even often a majority opinion on what is suitable. However, the ACLU writes that a free society must allow “each and every individual” the freedom to consume whatever entertainment they want.






About the author

Human Rights Issues