Freedom Means Different Things to Different People

Level: B1-B2


Ingla recently celebrated World Freedom Day (9 November) by posting on social media all week about freedom and being free. This begs an interesting question, though. What is freedom, and is it something different for everyone? What represents freedom for one person is completely wrong for another. In this blog, we’re going to talk about different freedoms and how people from around the world might see them differently.


Freedom of Speech


For Ingla, as an English-language school in North London, this is the most important and most relevant freedom. Our purpose is to help people from our diverse neighbourhood in Turnpike Lane in Wood Green to be able to communicate and understand the world around them. As a good language teacher you should give your students the tools they need to communicate, not tell them what they can and can’t say. Freedom of speech, meaning the liberty to say what you want without punishment, is believed to be one of the most important freedoms in the Western world. Many people think that, without the freedom to speak freely, a person cannot think freely and so is being prevented from being themselves. On the other hand, some people think that freedom of speech should have limits. They say that people should not be allowed to offend or to criticise things like religion. They think that if something is sacred, or holy, to them you can’t say anything negative about it. In some cases, the consequences for doing this can be very severe. Other people even say that hurting someone’s feelings is bullying and should be illegal. How much freedom is too much freedom when it comes to words?


Freedom of Religion


In America, in the region of New England, in the 17th century there was a group of English people called the Puritans who left their native country because they said they weren’t allowed to practise their religion freely. They were Christians, like other people in England at that time, but they were much stricter about their faith. In New England, if you were a Puritan, you were not allowed to gamble, smoke in public, or wear fancy clothing. You were expected to spend your days working hard and praying. For many people today this does not sound like freedom, but for the Puritans, following the word of their God to the letter was the greatest freedom a person could have. In some ways, this is no different today. Most people believe that, especially in a diverse society like the UK, a person should not be stopped from worshipping the way they want – whether they are Christian, Muslim, Hindu, atheist or anything else. Like freedom of speech, though, other people believe that religious freedom should have limits. They say that people should be allowed to follow their religious rules as long as they don’t interfere with anybody else’s freedoms. This can be very complicated in a multicultural society. For example, if a comedian tells a joke about one religion and the followers of that religion are offended, should that joke be banned? Does that violate the comedian’s freedom of speech? Or if one religion prohibits drinking alcohol, should alcohol be illegal for everyone?

Freedom is a complicated topic, and these two freedoms are just the tip of the iceberg. It’s very easy to say that you think people should be free, but, in reality, what does that mean? Can I do whatever I want if that stops you from being free? What if you and I have very different ideas about what freedom means? It’s not easy to find a solution. People have been searching for one for ages without finding common ground. What do you think?

Match the underlined word in the article to the definitions.

1._______________ (n./adj.) Prohibited, not allowed, to be made illegal

2._______________ (n.) A result or effect, usually negative

3._______________ (Idiom) To do something exactly at it is written, without making changes

4._______________ (adj.) Having lots of variety, including people from very different groups

5._______________ (n.) A penalty received for doing something wrong

6._______________ (v.) To stop something from happening

7._______________ (n.) A very long time

8._______________ (adj.) Related to the topic, appropriate for a conversation

9._______________ (adj.) Demanding that rules are closely followed

10._______________ (Idiom) To introduce a topic into a conversation that hadn’t been considered

11._______________ (v.) To cause somebody to feel upset or annoyed

  1. Do you think that bullying should be illegal? Are there any other types of “speech” that you think should be against the law? Why/Why not?


  1. Are freedom of speech and religion possible in a multicultural society in which people have very different backgrounds and beliefs?


  1. Are there any other freedoms not mentioned in the article that you think are important?
  1. Banned
  2. Consequences
  3. To the letter
  4. Diverse
  5. Punishment
  6. Prevented
  7. Ages
  8. Relevant
  9. Strict
  10. Beg an interesting question
  11. Offend