Freedom of Speech, the Right of Expression


This first amendment of the United States Constitution reads, “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.”

This right is echoed in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "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."

Freedom of expression is valued by people and nations worldwide.  Yet despite widespread acceptance of its importance one would be hard pressed to find a location or a time period where it was not a contentious subject.  From what should and should not be protected by the right of free expression to what constitutes as supression of such, debates regarding the concept have existed for as long as the concept itself.  Today these conflicts are as strong as ever.  People have turned to using free expression not only as the rational for voicing their own opinions and public demonstrations in support of policies of platforms both popular and unpopular but also as a weapon for accusing those who oppose their views of suppressing their freedom of expression rights. 

What actions fall under freedom of expression rights?  What topics or concepts are and are not protected?  What constitutes supression of these rights?  The answer to these questions may never be completely clear.  But that should not stop individuals from educating themselves on the history and philosophy behind freedom of expression in order to come to their own conclusions.

The Trinity College Library and Watkinson Library have a multitude of resources regarding freedom of expression in their collections. From secondary sources analyzing the concept in variety of ways to primary sources that serve as examples of these rights in action throughout history, these resources give researchers a wide ranging look at freedom of expression, its interpretations and practices.

This exhibit was created in conjunction with the display of freedom of speech related materials opened in February of 2018 in the Raether Library atrium display case.

View the items in this exhibit

Collection Items

Letter from Birmingham City Jail
Addressed to Bishop C.C.J. Carpenter and other clergymen in response to criticisms of Martin Luther King and his contemporaries' peaceful protests in the city of Birmingham, Alabama. In this letter Dr. King speaks on the duty people have to…

One of the most influential works on the defense of free speech and free expression. Milton wrote this work in response to Parliament's 1643 Ordinance for the Regulating of Printing, or the Licensing Order of 1643. This order required authors to…

Striking a Balance: Hate Speech, Freedom of Expression, and Non-Discrimination
A compilation of conference papers from the 1991 conference held at the Human Rights Centre of the University of Essex. This books covers the topic of hate speech, legislation regarding hate speech, and balancing the restriction of hate speech with…
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