My colleagues and I often care for patients suffering from hallucinations, prophesying, and claiming to speak with God, among other symptoms—in mental health care, it’s sometimes very difficult to tell apart religious belief from mental illness…. Our conclusions frequently stem from the behaviors we see before us. Take an example of a man who walks into an emergency department, mumbling incoherently. He says he’s hearing voices in his head, but insists there’s nothing wrong with him. He hasn’t used any drugs or alcohol. If he were to be evaluated by mental health professionals, there’s a good chance he might be diagnosed with a psychotic disorder like schizophrenia. But what if that same man were deeply religious? What if his incomprehensible language was speaking in tongues?
The robust protection of freedom of expression is not well-served by the assumption that the regulation of free expression may never take into account the content of the expression being regulated. The assumption fails to acknowledge that some forms of expression are far more valuable and in need of protection in a democracy than others. It also fails to acknowledge that some forms of expression threaten democracy and the dignity of those who live in it. The idea of a content neutral approach to the protection of freedom of expression should, therefore, be rejected as it is not useful for the effective protection of freedom of expression in a democracy that respects human dignity and diversity. To the extent that free expression is believed to operate in a free marketplace of ideas, it furthermore fails to identify (and may even mask) some of the most pressing threats posed to a thriving free expression culture. Instead, turning to the South African Bill of Rights – with its general limitation clause – will provide for a far more nuanced and effective approach to the possible limitation of free expression, provided that certain important safeguards are put in place. The article therefore argues that we should reject the metaphor of the free marketplace of ideas and should, instead, turn to the idea that freedom of expression’s protection depends to some extent at least on whether it advances, protects or reflects the values that form part of the ‘objective normative value system’ embodied in the South African Constitution. The article concludes by arguing that the problems raised by the metaphor of free marketplace of ideas can at least partly be addressed by reimagining freedom of expression as a right that places not only negative obligations on the state to refrain from interfering with the right of individuals to receive and impart information and ideas, but also as a right that places positive obligations on the state to take steps progressively to extend the ability of individuals to receive and impart ideas and to access a more diverse array of information and ideas.BACK TO TOP