When the Friends of Voltaire needed a way to sum up the philosopher's stance on a controversial issue, they came up with the perfect line.
'Je désapprouve ce que vous dites, mais je me battrai jusqu'à la mort pour que vous ayez le droit de le dire.' It's usually attributed to Voltaire himself, but it was said about him; and about the way he thought.
It's usually translated as, 'I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.'
Freedom of Speech is very easy to defend, when those opinions expressed chime with your own worldview. It's when the 'opposition' get to speak too that distaste can turn into a wish to silence them.
I learned this lesson as a young student on the steps of a town hall, back in the 1990s. As a member of the Anti-Nazi League, I was working to combat racism and other expressions of hatred.
The far right British National Party (BNP) had a candidate standing in the local council elections. A coachload of us turned up to picket the steps into the forum, where each of the candidates would be addressing members of the public. Our remit felt so correct, as we left the University. We were to stop the 'Nazi' entering that hall.
He turned up, in his suit and tie, looking every inch the respectable gentleman. We crowded into his pathway, screaming Anti-Nazi slogans at him. He stood undaunted before our masses.
"You're trying to stop my freedom of speech. You're trying to silence a dissenting voice; and you call me a 'Nazi'." He said. For most of my peers, that was their cue to yell at him about his racist policies. For me, it was a wake up call.
What on Earth was I doing here? I was the only history student there. I was the only one who was in the process of studying, at graduate level, the rise of the Third Reich. I knew the reality behind our chants, our placards and our slogans.
He was right. In our bid to focus on the issue at hand, we'd missed the bigger picture. We'd become the very thing that we sought to challenge.
Watching the backlash against Westboro Baptist Church now reminds me of standing on those town hall steps.