18 Freedom of Speech Quotes You Should Know

free speech

By Freedom Forum

Freedom of speech is one of the five fundamental freedoms protected by the First Amendment, and the Freedom Forum’s surveys show that it's one of the most beloved – and people have a lot to say about it. That’s not new. People have been talking about freedom of speech since before the First Amendment became law in 1791. That's where these freedom of speech quotes come in.

To pay tribute to this vital freedom, we gathered 18 freedom of speech quotes from more than two centuries.

Discover 18 of the top freedom of speech quotes from throughout history

1. "If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don't like. (Nazi propagandist Paul) Goebbels was in favor of freedom of speech for views he liked. So was (Soviet dictator Joseph) Stalin. If you're in favor of freedom of speech, that means you're in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise." ― Noam Chomsky, linguist and social critic.

The linguist and lecturer’s views about free speech for all were included in the 1992 documentary "Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media."

2. "Everyone is in favor of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people's idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone says anything back, that is an outrage." ― Winston Churchill, British politician.

The World War II-era Prime Minister commented on freedom of speech to the House of Commons in 1943.

3. "Free speech isn’t just about speaking. It is also about listening ..." ―Tim Cook, Apple CEO.

This freedom of speech quote comes from the technology leader talking about what free speech means to him as a 2017 Free Expression Awards honoree.

4. "Our freedom of speech is freedom or death, we got to fight the powers that be!" ― Chuck D, rapper, Public Enemy.

This free speech quote gained fame as a lyric in Public Enemy’s 1989 track "Fight the Power."

5. "Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech." ―Silence Dogood, likely pseudonym of Benjamin Franklin.

Like many Founding Fathers, Franklin sometimes wrote anonymously or under an assumed name. This freedom of speech quote appeared in a 1722 letter to the editor of The New-England Courant and was signed with Franklin’s pen name.

6. "No right was deemed by the fathers of the government more sacred than the right of speech. It was in their eyes, as in the eyes of all thoughtful men, the great moral renovator of society and government." ― Frederick Douglass, activist and author.

Douglass made his plea for freedom of speech at an 1860 abolition meeting in Boston shortly before the Civil War began.

7. "If the First Amendment is intended to protect anything, it's intended to protect offensive speech. If you’re not going to offend anyone, you don't need protection." ― Larry Flynt, publisher.

The controversial publisher of Hustler magazine talked about freedom of speech and his landmark Supreme Court win over the Rev. Jerry Falwell as reported in the Associated Press in November 1998.

8. "The political core of any movement for freedom in the society has to have the political imperative to protect free speech." ― bell hooks, author and activist.

Born Gloria Jean Watkins, the cultural critic wrote about freedom of speech for social change in her book "Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations."

9. "The First Amendment is often inconvenient. But that is beside the point. Inconvenience does not absolve the government of its obligation to tolerate speech." ― Anthony Kennedy, United States Supreme Court.

The late justice joined the majority of the court in ruling that airports can limit some types of speech, such as solicitation, but not all.

10. "But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right." ― The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The civil rights leader’s final speech on April 3, 1968, cited the Bible and the First Amendment.

11. "Dr. King, Malcolm X, freedom of speech is as good as sex." ― Madonna, pop star.

Pop idol Madonna rapped about free speech in a 1990 public service announcement aired on MTV encouraging young people to vote.

12. "If we lose freedom of speech, it’s never coming back." ― Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla and owner of Twitter.

Musk's freedom of speech quote comes from an April 2023 tweet.

13. "My freedom of speech stimulates your freedom to tell me I'm wrong." ― P.J. O'Rourke, author and satirist.

As a comedic political critic, O’Rourke wrote about freedom of speech in a February 2000 New York Times editorial.

14. "We must take the best from the left and the best from the right to devise new strategies for the global twenty-first century. The reluctance of liberal professors to speak out against rampant abuses committed on their side (e.g., suppression of free speech, the excesses of women's studies and French theory) has simply increased the power of the right." ― Camille Paglia, academic and social critic.

The critic of several modern social movements called out challenges to free speech in her 2011 book "Vamps & Tramps: New Essays."

15. "To me there is nothing more important in a democracy than free speech and debate. We should debate everything, we should talk about everything, we should engage ideas we aren't comfortable with, and we should let the best ideas win, that's how a healthy society based on rational ideas and a secular government should work." ― Dave Rubin, political commentator.

In a 2015 episode of his talk show, Rubin discussed the role of freedom of speech in democracy.

16. "Free speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game. Free speech is life itself." ― Salman Rushdie, author.

The controversial author who has faced censorship and physical attack shared why he defends free speech so vigorously at a 1991 speech at a forum on the First Amendment at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

17. "When you have something to say, there is always someone somewhere with a very good reason to stop you from saying it." ― Laurent "Riss" Sourisseau, Charlie Hebdo cartoonist.

French cartoonist Riss survived a deadly 2015 terrorist attack on the satirical and sometimes controversial newspaper Charlie Hebdo and is a 2018 Free Expression Awards honoree.

18. "Free speech not only lives, it rocks!" ― Oprah Winfrey.

Oprah praised free speech after she won a 1998 lawsuit brought by cattle ranchers after a show on food safety.

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