This is downright frightening:
The Newseum Institute is out with some stunning information from its annual “State of the First Amendment” study. In asking Americans for their views on the First Amendment, the survey found that more than one-third (34 percent) of citizens believe that it goes too far in the rights that if affords.
The results are even more surprising when considering that the proportion is up significantly from last year’s results (only 13 percent of the country said the same). This, according to a press release put out by the Newseum Institute, is the largest single-year increase since the study first began in 1997.
The historical trend provides us some context. While that 34% number may seem high to most readers (it certainly shocked me), that’s not the highest it’s ever been.
Even given the fluctuation in the number of people who apparently think our 1st amendment freedoms need to be curtailed, we’re looking at a 15-year average of roughly 25% of Americans saying we’re too free to speak, publish, gather and express our faith.
The attitude manifested in these poll results, I think, is one of conceit. When people support curtailing freedoms, I suspect they rarely think of it in terms of themselves. As in, I doubt anyone in this average 25% who think the 1st amendment is too broad is thinking they’d like the government to start censoring what they say, or how they practice their religion.
They want other people’s freedoms curtailed. The problem with that view is censorship powers cut both ways. If you’re going to have free speech (and religion, etc.) you must have free speech, otherwise you have a situation where your freedoms hinge on how other people react to them.
We’ve all seen a lot of hateful examples of expression protected by the 1st amendment, from the Westboro Baptist protesters today to historical footage of the Ku Klux Klan marching on Washington DC. I take pride in those controversial displays, not because I agree with those ingrates and bigots, but because I’m proud to live in a country where even the stupidest of people have the right to speak. Or gather. Or worship. Or publish.
What makes us great isn’t our tolerance for non-controversial speech, but our tolerance for the worst kinds of speech.