If you asked most Americans whether or not they support free speech, the vast majority of them would say that they do. Even most Leftists would probably tell you that they support free speech, but in the same breath they would admit that it should have some limitations.
And that’s precisely the problem with Americans these days. They claim that they support the freedom to say whatever they want, but when asked how they feel about specific examples of speech that they don’t like, it’s obvious that they don’t actually believe in free speech. And though the Left is catching the most flak for being anti-free speech these days, it’s a problem on both sides of the political aisle.
That was made abundantly clear after YouGov polled Americans on how they felt about the prospect of shutting down news outlets that publish inaccurate stories.
A new YouGov poll shows that a wide plurality of Republicans would be willing to permit courts to “shut down news media outlets for publishing or broadcasting stories that are biased or inaccurate.” The numbers: 45% of Republicans would favor such a policy, and 35% say they haven’t heard enough to say. That means that just 20% of Republicans would oppose such a policy. Among Democrats, just 18% favor such a policy, with 39% opposed and 43% saying they haven’t heard enough to decide. And among independents, 25% say they back such media shut downs, with 27% opposing and 48% deferring judgment. Overall, just 29% of Americans oppose such a policy.
When it comes to fining media outlets, the numbers are even worse. Just 12% of Republicans oppose such a policy; only 21% of independents oppose such a policy; overall, 80% of Americans either support such a policy (34%, including 55% of Republicans) or don’t know enough to say.
It’s understandable that Republicans feel this way, given how they’ve been treated by the media for so long. But it’s still wrong. After all, who gets to decide what news is “biased or inaccurate?” This would open the door for the government to shut down any news outlet, regardless of its political bent. They would have carte blanche to kill any speech that challenges the status quo by simply calling it inaccurate. You might recognize that argument as the same point made by conservatives when the media first engaged in its “fake news” witch hunt.
The truth is, free speech is under assault in all directions in America, and its future doesn’t look too bright. That’s because, not only is it losing respect among Republicans and Leftists, but young Americans also don’t really believe in it. Polls have shown that 7 out of 10 college students think that offensive speech should be restricted on their campuses, and 40% of Millennials think that the government should prevent people from saying things that are offensive to minorities; a number that is far higher than what is observed in previous generations.
These are scary times for the 1st Amendment. Broad sections of the population don’t value free speech, and their ranks are growing. And what’s worse, is that while they support policies that hurt the 1st amendment, they still often claim to support it. They have no idea that they support the destruction of their own rights.
If these people don’t wake up, then someday we are going to lose a fundamental right that protects the free exchange of ideas, and that right is a well from which all freedoms and prosperity spring from. If you don’t believe me, all you have to do is look at any country that doesn’t value this right. Those places are not pretty.
There’s a reason why free speech is in the 1st Amendment, and not the 2nd or 3rd. It’s the most important right, and we’re in danger of losing it.