It’s an old adage that if you’re not a liberal when you’re young, you don’t have a heart. But if you’re not a conservative when you’re old, you don’t have a brain. These ideas seem to be borne out in a recent poll conducted by the Campaign for Free Speech. According to the new poll, the majority of millennials don’t believe in free speech.
The poll found that, “51% of Americans think the First Amendment is outdated and should be rewritten. The First Amendment protects your right to free speech, free assembly and freedom of religion among other things.”
In addition, “48% believe ‘hate speech’ should be illegal. Of those, about half think the punishment for ‘hate speech’ should include possible jail time, while the rest think it should just be a ticket and a fine.”
Unsurprisingly, the poll also found that the vast majority of millennials don’t even know why the First Amendment exists. “80% don’t actually know what the First Amendment really protects. Those polled believed this statement is true: ‘The First Amendment allows anyone to say their opinion no matter what, and they are protected by law from any consequences of saying those thoughts or opinions.’ It’s actually not true. The First Amendment prevents the government from punishing you for your speech.”
The executive director of the Campaign for Free Speech, Bob Lystad responded to the results in a statement to The Washington Free Beacon. “These findings are frankly extraordinary. Our free speech rights and our free press rights have evolved for well over 200 years, and people now seem to be rethinking them.”
Lystad continued, “Hate speech should be condemned, but legally, the answer to speech we don’t like is more speech, not censorship. Our primary focus is education, and to help people better understand the First Amendment, free speech, free press and why it’s so vital to our democracy.”
This study seems to confirm the findings of other polls that reveal most Americans know shockingly little about the First Amendment. One poll conducted by the Freedom Forum Institute found that, “40 percent of those surveyed could not name a single freedom or right expressed in the First Amendment. Only a single respondent (of 1,500) correctly acknowledged all five freedoms.”
Arthur Milkh, the associate director of The Heritage Foundation’s B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics recently wrote an article for Fox News defending free speech.
In it, he makes the point that laws against so-called “hate speech” have no positive effect on reducing hate crimes. “Some governments have already tried to outlaw ‘hate speech.’ The United Kingdom, for example, criminalizes it. Nevertheless, violent anti-Semitic hate crimes are 13 times more likely to occur there than in the U.S. France also criminalizes anti-Semitic speech. And yet violent anti-Semitic hate crimes are four times more likely to occur in France than in the U.S.”
Milkh also argues that the presence of what may be deemed “hate speech” actually helps oppressed and minority groups. “Allegedly oppressed groups not only should be able to speak freely and critically about the dominant group; their liberation depends on such antagonistic speech.”
The freedom to speak freely is a bedrock principle of our society, which is why this finding among millennials is quite concerning.
But if the old adage holds true, we can hope these young ones will wise up in the future.