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Chapter 2

Chapter 3

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Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

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Civic Education Volume

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Chapter 2

Individual Freedoms: Freedom of Expression

By Fredricka L. Stoller

The theme of individual freedoms has been selected for the second chapter of the Civic Education volume because it is pertinent, provocative, and of interest to students worldwide. While exploring a set of individual freedoms, students can learn the vocabulary and concepts associated with the theme. While improving their language skills, students can develop an understanding of the role of individual freedoms in civil societies and the complexities associated with such freedoms. In this chapter, students will examine a set of individual freedoms and evaluate situations in which those freedoms might have to be limited. Teachers can use the proposed lesson by itself or design a series of connected lessons that explore the theme in more detail. An even more elaborate thematic unit that examines each freedom in depth, from a variety of perspectives, could be developed and extended over a longer period of time. The lesson plan ideas presented here are meant to serve as a starting point for teachers interested in exploring the theme of individual freedoms with their students.

Background Information

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights lists many freedoms that should be granted to individuals around the world. Some examples of individual freedoms include the following: freedom of opinion and speech, freedom to give and receive information, freedom from discrimination, freedom from slavery, freedom from torture, freedom of religion, and freedom to organize meetings. In this chapter, we'll limit our exploration of individual freedoms by focusing on five different, though often overlapping, freedoms:

  • Freedom of speech: Freedom to say what you want; to express your opinion; to explore new ideas; to share different points of view
  • Freedom of press: Freedom to write what you want; to express your opinion in writing; to explore new ideas in writing; to share different points of view in writing; to criticize or support people and ideas in writing
  • Freedom of assembly: Freedom to meet in groups peacefully, in parks, in schools, on the streets, in restaurants, in private homes, and in other public and private places
  • Freedom of religion: Freedom to follow whatever religion you want; freedom to practice religious beliefs
  • Freedom of conscience: Freedom to decide what to believe

Together these freedoms represent the freedom of expression: Freedom to express oneself through speech, writing, art, clothing, hair (length, color, style), music, religion, and so forth.

Although most civil societies endorse freedoms such as these, they do not do so without debate and controversy. Members of civil societies often engage in animated debates about the limits of different freedoms, including the boundaries of free speech and the limitations of freedom of expression. Debates center around questions such as these: Should people be allowed to tell lies in court? Should people be allowed to shout in libraries? Should people be able to ruin someone's reputation with an untrue newspaper report? Should a military officer be allowed to tell a newspaper reporter about secret military plans? Should controversial groups be allowed to hold a meeting in a public park or stage a march through a downtown area? Should controversial art be displayed in public museums? Should young people be able to wear whatever clothes they want to school? Should a religious group be allowed to recruit new members? Should a citizen be allowed to protest a new government law? The answers to such questions are complex and hardly straightforward.

Some governments limit individual freedoms with time, place, and manner restrictions. For example, they may govern when, where, and how an individual may speak but not what that individual may say. The challenge faced by such governments is in finding the proper balance between individual freedoms and the rights and interests of society at large.

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