Freedom of Expression
Should our democracy block Internet content to protect national security?
In April 2010, the group called Wikileaks released a shocking video on the Internet. The video showed a U.S. military helicopter shooting at people on the ground in Iraq. This shooting killed 12 people. Two of those killed were journalists. This incident happened in 2007. The U.S. military had kept it secret.
Freedom of Expression—Lesson:
The nature of democracy changes and grows along with its citizenry, but it’s always based on principles that help citizens modify, uphold, and strengthen their democracy. Visit the DDA Democratic Principles and Activities page to learn more about the principles underlying democracy and gain access to activities that help students understand the complexity of democracy.
We’ve identified some democratic principles addressed in this lesson “Should our democracy block Internet content to protect national security?” What principles might you add to the list below?
In a democracy elected and appointed officials are responsible for their actions and have to be accountable to the people. Officials must make decisions and perform their duties according to the will and wishes of the people they represent, not for themselves or their friends.
- Bill of Rights
Bill of Rights
Most democratic countries have a list of citizens’ rights and freedoms. Often called a “Bill of Rights,” this document limits the power of government and explains the freedoms that are guaranteed to all people in the country. It protects people from a government that might abuse its powers. When a Bill of Rights becomes part of a country’s constitution, the courts have the power to enforce these rights.
- Citizen Participation
One of the most basic principles of a democracy is citizen participation in government. Participation is more than just a right—it is a duty. Citizen participation may take many forms, including running for election, voting in elections, becoming informed, debating issues, attending community meetings, being members of private voluntary organizations, paying taxes, serving on a jury, and even protesting. Citizen participation builds a better democracy.
- Human Rights
All democracies strive to value human life and dignity and to respect and protect the human rights of citizens. Examples include, but are not limited to the following:
Movement: Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of his or her country. Everyone has the right to leave and to return to his or her country. (Article 13, Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
Religion: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. This right includes freedom to change his or her religion and to worship alone or in community with others. It also includes the right to not worship or hold religious beliefs. (Article 18, UDHR)
Speech: 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 with others. (Article19. UDHR)
Assembly: Everyone has the right to organize peaceful meetings or to take part in meetings in a peaceful way. It is undemocratic to force someone to belong to a political group or to attend political meetings or rallies. (Article 20, UDHR)
For government to be accountable, the people must be aware of the actions their government is taking. A transparent government holds public meetings and allows citizens to attend. In a democracy the press and the people are able to get information about what decisions are being made, by whom, and why.
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