Respected major national polling firm Rasmussen Reports has just come out with a new study whose results might seem a bit surprising given the current political climate in the country. As it finds that despite a mainstream media push to warm American’s up to the type of hate speech laws that have now been adopted by both our northern neighbors and much of Europe, “an overwhelming 85% of American Adults think giving people the right to free speech is more important than making sure no one is offended by what others say”. In fact only a mere 8% of Americans found it more important to make sure no one gets offended.
The group went even further asking participants whether they agreed personally with the following famous quote by 18th century political philosopher Voltaire. “I disapprove of what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it”. Rather impressively 73% of all Americans put their full support behind the sentiment, with only 10% openly disagreeing with it. This seemingly flying in the face of the media built narrative that American’s are united in their desire to limit hate speech following the Charlottesville rally.
However despite this overwhelming agreement by most Americans in support of freedom of speech, sadly only 28% of those polled felt like they truly possessed it in modern America. With the majority also separately confirming they felt they had to constantly be careful of what they said, lest worry about facing some type of repercussions.
We live in a nation where the majority clearly doesn’t want to go down the road of obsessive political correctness anymore, and yet our leaders act like they are only fulfilling the overwhelming demands of the people when they continue down this course. So what can this study tell us about the groups that actually DO want to give up free speech in the name of other’s feelings?
For starters the study found that those who identified as Democrats to be slightly less sure about the need to protect free speech then either their Republican or Independent counterparts. Which given that it’s the left who most often is calling for things like hate speech laws in the first place is of little surprise. Perhaps more interesting is that Black Americans were significantly less likely to state they’d defend to the death someone’s right to free speech then both other American minorities and Whites. Finally Rasmussen also found that men were more supportive of strong free speech rights than females in general. What all the data points collected make clear, is that the strongest supporters of free speech tend to be Conservative White Males. Though it should be pointed out that the data implies the sentiment is still looked upon positively by the majority of Americans, which is certainly a comforting thought.
In fact the right to freedom of speech is still so popular in America, that another poll from just two years back found that Americans rated it as their most important basic Constitutional right. Even over things like Religious Freedom or the Right to Bear Arms. Despite all this however, we now live in a country where far too many Americans find that Free Speech is most threatened just where it should be most protected. At our centers for higher learning. As yet another survey taken earlier this year had the majority of those polled stating they saw free speech on our college campuses as a thing of the past. With almost half of participants claiming they felt most college administrators and professors were more interested in getting students to agree with certain politically correct points of view rather than in a free exchange of ideas.
It’s important to remember now more than ever, that speech is speech. So called hate speech, as long as it doesn’t directly call for violence, is the right of every American since the adoption of the Bill of Rights into the Constitution. The right to it, and all other forms of expression, is the greatest gift bestowed to us by the founders. We need to cherish it, for it’s a privilege that the majority of humans since the down of civilization have not had. Just two months ago even, our Supreme Court unanimously chose to reaffirm in the clearest of terms, there is no “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment. On the topic Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito writing,
“Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express “the thought that we hate.”
I will end this with a thought from his counterpart Justice Anthony Kennedy. Who in a separate opinion from the same decision addresses one of the inherent dangers with any law that puts limits on free speech.
“A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all. The First Amendment does not entrust that power to the government’s benevolence. Instead, our reliance must be on the substantial safeguards of free and open discussion in a democratic society.”
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