Intellectual freedom

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Intellectual freedom is the right to freedom of thought and of expression of thought. As defined by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is a human right. Article 19 states:

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 and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.[1]

The modern concept of intellectual freedom developed out of an opposition to book censorship.[2] It is promoted by several professions and movements. These entities include, among others, librarianship, education, and the Free Software Movement.


Intellectual freedom is a broad topic covering many areas. Some of these topics are academic freedom, Internet filtering, and censorship.[3]

Intellectual freedom and librarianship[edit]

The profession of librarianship views intellectual freedom as a core responsibility. The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions' (IFLA) Statement on Libraries and Intellectual Freedom "calls upon libraries and library staff to adhere to the principles of intellectual freedom, uninhibited access to information and freedom of expression and to recognize the privacy of library user." IFLA urges its members to actively promote the acceptance and realization of intellectual freedom principles. IFLA states: "The right to know is a requirement for freedom of thought and conscience; freedom of thought and freedom of expression are necessary conditions for freedom of access to information."[4]

Individual national library associations expand upon these principles when defining intellectual freedom for their constituents. For example, the American Library Association's Intellectual Freedom Q & A defines intellectual freedom as: "[T]he right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored. .... Intellectual freedom encompasses the freedom to hold, receive and disseminate ideas."[5]

The Canadian Library Association's Position Statement on Intellectual Freedom states that all persons possess "the fundamental right ... to have access to all expressions of knowledge, creativity and intellectual activity, and to express their thoughts publicly."[6] This right was enshrined into law in 2004 in British Columbia, which grants protection against litigation for libraries for their holdings.[7]

Many other national library associations have similarly adopted statements on intellectual freedom.

Intellectual Freedom Manual[edit]

The American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom publishes the Intellectual Freedom Manual, now in its eighth edition. Considered an authoritative resource for library professionals, it is also of use to members of the public who wish to stay informed of the most recent policies and developments in the field.[8] As well as providing an historical overview of the topic, it is divided into parts which cover key issues such as the Library Bill of Rights, protecting the freedom to read, intellectual freedom and the law, and preserving, protecting and working for intellectual freedom.[9]

Intellectual Freedom Award[edit]

Each year since 1969 the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois has awarded the Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award. This award is given to individuals or groups who have furthered the cause of intellectual freedom in libraries.[10]

Intellectual freedom under authoritarian rule[edit]

Intellectual freedom is often suppressed under authoritarian rule[11] and such governments often claim to have nominal intellectual freedom, although the degree of freedom is a matter of dispute. The former USSR, for example, claimed to provide intellectual freedom, but some analysts in the West have stated that the degree of intellectual freedom was nominal at best.[12][11]

Intellectual freedom in democratic countries during times of crises[edit]

During times of crises there is often debate within democratic countries as to the balance between national security, a successful conclusion to the crises and the maintenance of democratic civil liberties. This debate often takes the form of to what extent a democratic government can curtail civil liberties in the interest of successfully ending the crises.

Such a debate existed in Canada during the Second World War. Since the First World War the War Measures Act had existed as legislation in Canada to allow the government to operate with greater powers during times of national crises, such as in wartime. During the Second World War the federal Liberal government of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King enacted the measure by Order-in-Council. The War Measures Act and with it the Defence of Canada Regulations were passed by the federal government in early September 1939. With their implementation civil liberties, especially the intellectual freedom of political dissenters, were curtailed.[13] As well, in Quebec the Union Nationale government of Premier Maurice Duplessis enacted “An Act Respecting Communist Propaganda”, which came to be known as the Padlock Act. It gave Premier Duplesis, as Attorney General of Quebec, the power to close (hence padlock) any premises used for the purposes of “propagating Communism or Bolshevism.” The Act was criticized by Eugene Forsey, for example, as being far too broad in definition and that it gave the Premier the power to suppress any opinions that he wished to. Forsey cited examples of such abuse in the Canadian Forum.[14]

All of these measures were criticized by writers in the Canadian Forum such as Eugene Forsey[15] and Frank R. Scott and by the League for Social Reconstruction in general; a group to which both Forsey and Scott belonged. Indeed, during the Second World War the Canadian Forum printed an anonymous monthly column outlining civil liberties abuses by Canadian authorities.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Universal Declaration of Human Rights". UN. Retrieved 2010-04-09. 
  2. ^ "Intellectual Freedom Manual: Eighth edition". ALA. Retrieved 2011-10-24. 
  3. ^ "ALA Intellectual Freedom Issues". ALA. Retrieved 2010-04-09. 
  4. ^ "IFLA Statement on Libraries and Intellectual Freedom". IFLA. Retrieved 2007-03-04. 
  5. ^ "ALA Intellectual Freedom and Censorship Q & A". ALA. Retrieved 2010-04-22. 
  6. ^ "Canadian Library Association / Association canadienne des bibliothèques Position Statement on Intellectual Freedom". CLA. Retrieved 2007-03-04. 
  7. ^ "ATTORNEY GENERAL STATUTES AMENDMENT ACT, 2004". BC. Retrieved 2010-04-09. 
  8. ^ Fourie, Ian (2008). Intellectual Freedom Manual 7th ed. Collection Building, 27(2), p. 91. Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
  9. ^ "Intellectual Freedom Manual: Eighth edition". ALA. Retrieved 2011-10-24. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b Beard, Charles A.; Mary R. Beard (1944). "XXVIII Global War and Home Front". A Basic History of the United States. New York: Doubleday, Doran & Co. p. 488. 
  12. ^ Charen, Mona (2003). Useful Idiots: How Liberals Got It Wrong in the Cold War and Still Blame America First. Regnery Publishing. ISBN 0-89526-139-1. 
  13. ^ Horn, Michiel, The League for Social Reconstruction: Intellectual Origins of the Democratic Left in Canada 1930-1942. Toronto: U of Toronto Press, 1980. p. 171
  14. ^ Milligan, Frank, Eugene A. Forsey: An Intellectual Biography. Calgary: U of Calgary Press, 2004. p. 139
  15. ^ Milligan, Frank, Eugene A. Forsey: An Intellectual Biography. Calgary: U of Calgary Press, 2004. p. 139
  16. ^ Horn, Michiel, The League for Social Reconstruction: Intellectual Origins of the Democratic Left in Canada 1930-1942. Toronto: U of Toronto Press, 1980. p. 171

Further reading[edit]

  • Morgan, Candace D. (2010). Intellectual Freedom Manual, Eighth Edition. Chicago, Illinois: American Library Association: Office for Intellectual Freedom. ISBN 978-0-8389-3590-3. 
  • Sakharov, Andrei (1968). Progress, Coëxistence, and Intellectual Freedom. Trans. by [staff of] The New York Times; with introd., afterword, and notes by Harrison E. Salisbury. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 158 p.

External links[edit]