Freedom of Thought, and Freedom of Speech: indispensable conditions of a free society

The statement

“It is hard to overstate the importance of this subject. Freedom of thought and freedom of speech have been bracketed together as indispensable conditions of a free society: Palko v Connecticut, 302 U.S. 319 (1937) at 327. But thought precedes speech; therefore, of the two, freedom of thought must be seen as the most fundamental.”

The source

Parker J in the NSW Supreme Court last week.

(Thiab v Western Sydney University [2022] NSWSC 760, https://www.caselaw.nsw.gov.au/decision/18146167eb6f3e4b72e1a807)

(posted on Telegram by solicitor Peter Fam, https://t.me/thepeterfamtelegram/129)

My take on it

The context is that a Nurse’s placements were all cancelled after she simply expressed a divergent view about Covid-19 to some supervisors. The Court found that s35 of the Western Sydney University Act 1997 precluded the University from discriminating against her by blocking her progression through her degree on the basis of her “political affiliations, views or beliefs”. Most Universities around the country have equivalent enacting statutes. The Court was scathing of the internal disciplinary process that had preceded the case, and the staff members who ran it.

It is a sad but not novel irony that academic institutions should manifest as protectors of orthodoxy rather than of independent thought.

It is a further irony that in this case the thoughts and speech related to defence of a more primary freedom than either of those, ie personal safety.

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