Free Speech is under attack!
This refrain is as old as Cato, the "conscience of Rome". The Romans noted that "No sooner a word is spoken than it is gone never to be recalled".
Justice Brandeis commented, "Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify oppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of free speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears."
In the South Asian context, Ashoka's Pillar Edicts recorded a focus on Free Speech and its restraint as the hallmarks of a good society.
Growth in essentials can be done in different ways, but all of them have as their root restraint in speech, that is, not praising one's own religion, or condemning the religion of others without good cause. And if there is cause for criticism, it should be done in a mild way. But it is better to honor other religions for this reason. By so doing, one's own religion benefits, and so do other religions, while doing otherwise harms one's own religion and the religions of others. Whoever praises his own religion, due to excessive devotion, and condemns others with the thought "Let me glorify my own religion," only harms his own religion. Therefore contact (between religions) is good. One should listen to and respect the doctrines professed by others. Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, desires that all should be well-learned in the good doctrines of other religions.
Those who are content with their own religion should be told this: Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, does not value gifts and honors as much as he values that there should be growth in the essentials of all religions. And to this end many are working — Dhamma Mahamatras, Mahamatras in charge of the women's quarters, officers in charge of outlying areas, and other such officers. And the fruit of this is that one's own religion grows and the Dhamma is illuminated also."
John Milton addressed the English Parliament in the Areopageitica on the freedom of the Press, to great result.
Cato was resurrected in the American Colonies in the form of political columns under the headline of "The Cato Letters". A particularly relevant one reads,
"Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as publick liberty, without freedom of speech, which is the right of every man, as far as by it he does not hurt and control the right of another; and this is the only check which it ought to suffer, the only bounds which it ought to know.This sacred privilege is so essential to free government, that the security of property and the freedom of speech, always go together; and in those wretched countries where a man can not call his tongue his own, he can scarce call any thing else his own. Whoever would overthrow the liberty of the nation, must begin by subduing the freedom of speech; a thing terrible to publick traitors."
The tale of the guardians of free speech continues till today with the recent cartoons in Danish newspapers and the resultant reactions/over-reactions in various countries, countered by courageous commentary and collaborative criticism, not least in the blogosphere. The Committee To Protect Journalists reports on a bomb threat received by the Jyllands-Posten in Viby, Denmark recently. The newspaper's website has been flooded with 80,000 hate-mails.