by Michael Krieger, Liberty Blitzkrieg:
Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants. It is the right which they first of all strike down. They know its power. Thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers, founded in injustice and wrong, are sure to tremble, if men are allowed to reason…There can be no right of speech where any man…[is] compelled to suppress his honest sentiments. Equally clear is the right to hear. To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.”
– Frederick Douglass
A recent survey conducted by the Brookings Institution adds to my already festering concerns about American attitudes when it comes to our most precious civil liberty. Free speech.
Let’s start out by highlighting some of what we learned. First, via an opinion piece in The Washington Post:
Here’s the problem with suggesting that upsetting speech warrants “safe spaces,” or otherwise conflating mere words with physical assault: If speech is violence, then violence becomes a justifiable response to speech.
Just ask college students. A fifth of undergrads now say it’s acceptable to use physical force to silence a speaker who makes “offensive and hurtful statements.”
That’s one finding from a disturbing new survey of students conducted by John Villasenor, a Brookings Institution senior fellow and University of California at Los Angeles professor.
When students were asked whether the First Amendment protects “hate speech,” 4 in 10 said no. This is, of course, incorrect. Speech promoting hatred — or at least, speech perceived as promoting hatred — may be abhorrent, but it is nonetheless constitutionally protected.
Students were asked whether the First Amendment requires that an offensive speaker at a public university be matched with one with an opposing view. Here, 6 in 10 (mistakenly) said that, yes, the First Amendment requires balance.
The most chilling findings, however, involved how students think repugnant speech should be dealt with.
Let’s say a public university hosts a “very controversial speaker,” one “known for making offensive and hurtful statements.” Would it be acceptable for a student group to disrupt the speech “by loudly and repeatedly shouting so that the audience cannot hear the speaker”?
It gets even worse.
Respondents were also asked if it would be acceptable for a student group to use violence to prevent that same controversial speaker from talking. Here, 19 percent said yes.
What’s more, colleges alone are not to blame for these findings. Other data suggest that freshmen are arriving on campus with more intolerant attitudes toward free speech than their predecessors did, and that Americans of all ages have become strikingly hostile toward basic civil and political liberties.
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