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Legal Declarations

In 1767 Sweden became the first country in the world to declare official freedom of the press, although a number of countries already had de facto freedom from censorship by then. However, Sweden's law specifically excepted matters of religion, one of the most common matters censored. In 1770 Denmark became the first to end censorship of all subjects. The decree was the work of Prime Minister Johann Friedrich Struensee (1737–1772), whose publications had been censored in Hamburg a decade before. He was overthrown and executed in 1772, but prior restraint of the press was not reimposed.

The fledgling United States was the site of several declarations of freedom of the press. The Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776) asserted that freedom of the press is one of the bulwarks of freedom itself, and declarations and constitutions in Pennsylvania (1776), Delaware (1776), North Carolina (1776), Vermont (1777), South Carolina (1778), and other states contained similar provisions. These provisions were precedents for the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (1791), which holds that "Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press." How these words would be interpreted, of course, would have a great effect on censorship in the United States. Thomas Jefferson, for example, was highly in favor of freedom of the press until he became president, when he prosecuted newspapers that criticized his policies.

Article 11 of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man of 1789 provided that "Every citizen may freely speak, write, and print, subject to accountability for abuse of this freedom."

Many European constitutions of the nineteenth century abolished censorship. Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) provides that "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to … seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media."

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Categorical judgement to ChimaeraCensorship - Blasphemy, Heresy, And Atheism, Political Subversion, The Netherlands And England, From Bayle To Constant