Students take part in lively debate on freedom of speech

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On Friday, March 17, St Richard’s Catholic College held its inaugural debate on whether freedom of speech should be absolute right enshrined in law.

The school welcomed back Bexhill MP Huw Merriman, who previously chaired a debate on the EU Referendum. They also welcomed Home Secretary and Hastings MP Amber Rudd, who alongside Mr Merriman and Miss Cronin, judged the debate.

Proposing the motion that freedom of speech should be an absolute right, head boy and team captain Ethan Macdonald, Ethan O’Hara Harris and Ben Satow set out their arguments, emphasising that Britain is a tolerant country that would stand up to religious extremism and hate speech.

Their team drew on real case studies and were able to appeal to the British values of democracy, tolerance and the rule of law.

Opposing the motion, head girl and team captain Serena Coyle, Primrose Munroe and Jake Ludham emphasised the damage that would be done if people could express hate and racist language in public without prosecution. They drew parallels with Nazi Germany and quoted statistics on the harmful effect of bullying.

After the first two speakers from each team had delivered their speeches, the debate was opened to the audience and pupils from all years were able to ask individual teams specific questions about what had been discussed.

The debate was chaired by deputy head girl Emilie-Jayne Relf, who remained impartial throughout and ensured each team were able to make their points clearly and without prejudice.

At the end of the debate, pupils were given an opportunity to vote and the overwhelming majority agreed with Ethan, Ethan and Ben, who are argued in favour of freedom of speech being an absolute right.

This led to an interesting reaction, when Mr Merriman announced the judges had decided the opposition were the winners of the debate.

Mr Merriman said: “To witness the outstanding students from St Richard’s making their debating debuts was a great pleasure. The students spoke with passion, reason and intelligence. That they did so before not only their classmates and teachers but the Home Secretary was particularly impressive.”

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