The coming Free Speech crisis

( In a generation, the uniquely American right to speak freely – without fear of government censorship or punishment – could become a relic of history, according to the results of a recent Pew Research Center survey.

“American Millennials are far more likely than older generations to say the government should be able to prevent people from saying offensive statements about minority groups, according to a new analysis of Pew Research Center survey data on free speech and media across the globe,” the center reported.

Specifically, 40 percent of Millennials – defined as persons between the ages of 18-34 – would actually give the federal government the authority to regulate speech, a power that is specifically banned by the First Amendment to the Constitution, which reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

That’s pretty clear language. What’s also clear to anyone who has read the Federalist Papers and studied the debates over the Constitution when its various amendments were being considered in the late 1700s, the rights enumerated in the First Amendment were considered among the most important to our nation’s founders.

That’s because our founders knew well and understood that the right to speak freely was not afforded British subjects, and that was especially true when it came to criticism of the Crown.

So what’s the big deal, you ask? If the right is enshrined in the Constitution, what’s the crisis?

Understand that the “millennial” generation will be in charge someday, and not just in D.C., but in states as well. Those who do not aspire to governmental leadership positions will become voters, and who’s to say, if this sentiment grows in popularity, that someday those voters and those leaders won’t propose changes to the First Amendment that give the federal government powers to decide matters of speech?

In a very real sense the federal government already regulates speech. So-called “hate speech” laws are already designed to limit certain aspects of speech that a government official or judge may deem “offensive” to others.

Now, the implications of the Pew Research survey are that more and more young people have less and less of a problem with giving the government more power to decide what is and is not “offensive” speech – power our founders obviously never wanted the central government to have.

Most of us do not aim to intentionally hurt others’ feelings, whether they are minorities or not. But considering that radical activists, usually those on the Left, gin up phony racial and speech issues in order to empower themselves and effect societal change, it’s not a stretch to believe that someday many of those same activists will guilt enough voters into casting ballots against their own speech interests.

Consider what is occurring right now on an increasing number of college campuses: Students, radicals and university officials are backing limitations on speech through chastisement and policymaking, all for the purpose of stifling opposition and shutting down those who have differing viewpoints.

And, if the Pew Research survey is to be considered a bellwether of current sentiment, it appears as though the desire to limit speech some may simply find uncomfortable because it might challenge their worldview or preconceived notion is only spreading.

That’s unfortunate, to say the least, because the reality is, limiting any speech will ultimately lead to calls for limitations on wider swaths of speech. On any given day virtually anyone can and will be “offended” by something someone said or challenged by an idea that is different from the views each of us may hold. That’s the point of the First Amendment – to recognize our inalienable right to think, and then say, what we believe, even to the distress of others.

Read the full Pew Center report here.

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