Freedom of speech is worth fighting for, worth dying for. Our once-great nation was founded on it, and it’s the hill we must die on.
Freedom of speech is the foundation of a free society. Without it, a tyrant can wreak havoc unopposed, while his opponents are silenced.
Putting up with being offended is essential in a pluralistic society in which people differ on basic truths. If a group will not bear being offended without resorting to violence, that group will rule unopposed while everyone else lives in fear, while other groups curtail their activities to appease the violent group. This results in the violent group being able to tyrannize the others.
By: Candace Hathaway, Blaze, September 25, 2023
A recent poll from RealClear Opinion Research found that one-third of registered Democratic respondents feel Americans have “too much freedom to speak freely.”
The poll, released in September, surveyed 1,000 individuals. Of those interviewed, 377 identified as Democrats, 369 as Republicans, and 255 as independent or “other.”
By Carl M. Cannon – RCP Staff September 22, 2023
The concept of free speech dates to the 5th century B.C. in ancient Greece and was codified in America’s founding documents on Dec. 15, 1791, with the ratification of the Bill of Rights. The 45-word First Amendment prohibited Congress from “abridging freedom of speech, or of the press,” and has been long understood to include any branch of government.
James Madison, the drafter of the first 10 constitutional amendments, originally drafted a more fiery version of the First Amendment, one that included its underlying rationale: “The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.”
“Inviolable” is a powerful word, notwithstanding the fact that the right to speak and write freely has always come with various limitations. They range from libel and slander laws to national security secrets, obscenity statutes, and the notorious analogy popularized by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. of “falsely shouting ‘fire!’ in a theater and causing panic.”
Most citizens accept some of these caveats; others do not. But by overwhelming majorities, Americans generally still cherish their rights to free expression — at least in theory. A new poll on censorship by RealClear Opinion Research shows that 90% of voters in the United States express support for the Founders’ curbs on government power.
Topline findings: The full polling breakdown
“Overall, 9 in 10 voters in the U.S. think First Amendment protections for freedom of speech is a good thing, while only 9% think it is a bad thing,” said pollster Spencer Kimball, who directed the RCP survey. “This is agreed upon across the demographics, like party affiliation, age, and race.”
For those who oppose censorship and put a premium on the free flow of ideas, that’s the good news. But there is bad news, too. Inevitably in our nation’s current hyper-partisan political environment, when one bores down on this subject, deeply divergent perspectives emerge — partisan differences.
Painting with a broad brush, Democrats grant significantly more deference to government than do Republicans when it comes to regulating free speech. This wasn’t the only fault line revealed by the RCP survey.
Some of what is dividing these differences is generational, as Millennials and Gen-Z have come of age in a digital age environment in which reasonable expectations of privacy seem a relic of the past. “Those under 30 are most open to censorship by the government,” Kimball noted, adding that 42% of this cohort deem it “more important” to them that the government protect national security than guard the right to free expression. Among those over 65 years old, the corresponding percentage was 26%.
Also, a gender gap reveals itself, one that dovetails with the discrepancy in party registration between men and women — but which is more pronounced. Asked whether they support free speech even if it’s “deeply offensive,” 78% of men answered affirmatively, compared to 66% of women.
But the most glaring gap is between conservatives and liberals, i.e., between Republicans and Democrats. On the issue of free expression, at least, Republicans are not the authoritarian party. That distinction belongs to the Democrats, the party launched by Thomas Jefferson — the Founding Father who famously said that if he were forced to choose between “a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
This is a relatively new development. Traditionally, opposing censorship — whether imposed by government or corporations — was a bedrock principle of liberalism in this country. The American Civil Liberties Union was founded in 1920 to promote and defend free expression. And this ideal was at the heart of liberal thought, liberal lawmaking, and liberal jurisprudence during most of the 20th century.
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