Freedom of expression, like the air we breathe, is a luxury that most people in western civilization take for granted. I know I certainly took it for granted when I was in the twelfth grade, and that presumption almost got me expelled. In Cornwall, Ontario this last December the idea of freedom of speech did more than get a young man expelled. He was forced to spend the better part of a month, including Christmas, New Year's Eve, and his sixteenth birthday in jail. Finally there is the case of the former mayor of Mukingo in Ruhengeri Prefecture, Juvenal Kejelijeli, who is desperately fighting deportation to face charges for his "freedom of expression," which helped ignite genocide in Rwanda. Free speech and freedom of expression must be protected, but the speakers and writers must also take responsibility for their actions.
During the twelfth grade my belief in freedom of expression was put to the test. When I was given an assignment to write a short story for my grade twelve creative writing class on any subject I wanted; I made the mistake of doing what I was told. It was, admittedly, a disturbing story, filled with vengeful death, anti-religious sentiment and gross sexual abuse written by a confused young man. However, none of the characters had any basis in reality, and none of the violence could be associated with any specific people or institutions. This was purely a work of fiction and it almost got me kicked out of private school in England. Not only was I afraid of the reaction I was going to get from my father, but it also shook the very foundations of my beliefs in free speech and freedom of expression. A work of fiction, regardless of the content, is still just a work of fiction ...
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...ther number of oppressed countries. Therefore these freedoms must be utilized with a certain degree of caution and responsibility. Once we start censoring it becomes difficult to decide when and where to draw the line. When the responsible use of these freedoms comes into question, we as a society are called upon to decide what constitutes responsible freedom of expression, and what punishments are merited when the lines are crossed. If the judge and jury react too harshly, as in the case of the Avonmore student, they themselves become guilty of a crime far more severe than alleged threats seemingly found in a work of fiction. However had the story included names of current students, or had it been a call to other bullied students to carry out the grim plot, then punishment would be in order. In the mean time let's nourish creativity and be alert for cries for help.
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