In Free Expression and Personal Identification Joseph Raz puts forth an argument in support of the right to freedom of expression. His basic conclusion is that freedom of expression, while not in and of itself a right held in high esteem by most citizens, bestows on each person a sense of worth; that their right to express themselves is protected by law implies that their expression is inherently valuable. Raz supports his claim from a variety of perspectives including freedom of expression as a public good, freedom of expression as a form of validation, and the problems created by restricting freedom of expression.
I believe that Raz's most important claim in defense of protecting our freedom of expression is the idea that this freedom is a basic right that can be justified as a public good. The right to express oneself freely is in essence the ability to actively participate in, and add to, the culture of which we are a part. Without this guarantee we are prisoners within our society and political institution---a point Raz makes sure to clarify is that freedom of expression is compatible with a variety of institutional arrangements, ranging from a constitutional judicial review to a tradition of common law. Assuming, as Raz does, that freedom of expression is a public good, the role of this right within a democratic institution is of further importance. Raz's argument in this case is simple; as American's we assume that democracy is the best form of governance, within this democratic regime we have recognized the implied necessity of the right to "free public political expression", as a result we must therefore recognize freedom of expression as a public good. This line of democratic reasoning implies Raz's second conclusion, that freedom of expression validates the way of life being expressed.
He contends that within a democratic system as large as ours, and with as many voters as ours, the actual right to vote is itself not of great importance, rather it is a "symbolic recognition of full membership in a community." (Raz 309) Most democratic systems operate around a pluralistic society in which the varying paths that people may choose are all equally valued by the community. This means "people depend more than ever on public communication to establish a common understanding of the ways of life, range of experiences, attitudes, and thinking which are common and acceptable in their society." (Raz 312) Without freedom of expression the communication of such ideals would break down, resulting in a fragmented society devoid of any shared assumptions of right and wrong---or at least devoid of the knowledge of those shared assumptions.
This argument continues on the line that points of view that are expressed are validated by the act of their expression. If we acknowledge that the inability to express a point of view make it unacceptable to society, the idea that freedom of expression is a common good begins to materialize. Think for a moment about the issue of gay marriage, which for years was never talked about openly and was more or less universally banned. Yet once a discourse on the subject began our society began to accept it as an alternative to the traditional understanding of marriage. Thus the very act of expressing the desire to marry someone of the same sex allowed it to become acceptable within the public realm. As Raz states, "validation of a way of life through its public expression is of crucial importance for the well-being of individuals whose way of life it is." (Raz 312)
If the expression of opinions and ways of life is important to those who embody them, then censorship of such views must be wrong. Content-based censorship is the institutional rejection of the expressions being censored, an act which explicitly removes those who are being censored from society. To recount Raz's argument about the implications of freedom of expression for participation in a democratic institution: people are constantly interacting with others in their society and if their views are censored they will understandably feel removed from that society. As a result they won't interrelate within it, and the institution of democracy, which is so reliant on participatory action, will suffer.
Raz's final argument in favor of the protection of free expression outlines his interpretation of the need to allow "bad speech." His argument is simple, you cannot ban expressions because you disagree with them or because you feel, or are even 100% certain, that there exist better alternatives. So long as the expression is not an institutional attack, but rather a private one, discriminatory speech must be allowed in that it constitutes another way of life that must be accepted within a pluralistic society.
It is crucial to point out that Raz does not defend any moral right to freedom of expression, or that he is concerned with the protection of an individual's rights per say. Rather Raz makes the assumption that by protecting the individual's right to freedom of expression a government is bestowing that right upon society as a whole---the importance of which, given the need for participation in a democratic system that I have already discussed, should be clear. Raz combines his arguments with three other liberal contentions about freedom of expression, that it is a prerequisite of a democratic government; that it is vital for survival of a pluralistic society; and that it is necessary for minimizing possible government abuses. These together comprise a valuable explanation of freedom of expression as a public good, and allows for its inclusion as a fundamental element of a functioning democratic institution.