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Should Morals Restrict Rights? A Critique of Public Morals as Grounds for Limiting Free Speech and Religious Freedom

Presenter: Gehan Gunatilleke, Research Director

The restriction of rights on the basis of ‘public morals’ is a recognisable feature of human rights law. For example, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) includes ‘public morals’ as grounds for restricting a number of enumerated rights, including the freedom of expression (FOE) and the freedom to manifest religion or beliefs (FMRB). Sri Lanka’s Constitution similarly contains ‘public morality’ as a ground for restricting basic freedoms such as FOE and FMRB.

This seminar discussed the question: should ‘public morals’ be retained as legal grounds for limiting FOE and FMRB? It critiqued the normative and practical defensibility of ‘public morals’ as legal grounds for limiting FOE and FMRB. Accordingly, it presented a case for abandoning the ‘public morals’ limitation ground due to its definitional imprecision, difficulty in verification, and the potential for abuse.

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Last modified: November 14, 2023

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