Editorial: Is our love of free speech fading away?
Originally Published: December 1, 2015 6:02 a.m.
According to survey data released by the Pew Research Center last week, 40 percent of Millennials (people between the ages of 18 and 34) think the government should have the authority to restrict Americans' freedom to make negative statements about minority groups. Although 40 percent is not a majority, it's a rather large minority, and the survey should raise red flags for anyone who values freedom of expression.English writer and historian Evelyn Beatrice Hall is credited with saying the oft-quoted "I disapprove of what you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it." Although the quote is attributed to an English woman, it defines the essence of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.We may despise the things some people say about Muslims, Mexicans, gays, blacks, blondes, redheads, liberals, conservatives ... but if we are to protect our own freedom of expression, we must protect theirs as well. It's easy to understand why idealistic young people might want to fight bigotry by restricting the speech of hate-mongers, but they're failing to see the bigger picture. In a free marketplace of ideas, the truth will eventually win out, even if it takes a while. On the other hand, rights taken away are very difficult to win back.Each successive age group in the Pew survey placed a greater importance on freedom of expression. Among Gen-X (35-50 years old), only 27 percent thought offensive statements should be suppressed; among baby boomers (51-69), 24 percent; and among the so-called silent generation (70-87), 12 percent advocated restricting free speech. We hope these statistics indicate that people tend to place a greater value on free speech as they get older, because that means there's still some hope for that 40 percent of Millennials who favor government restrictions. The alternative theory is that each successive generation places less value on freedom of speech, which means by the time today's Millennials are in their 70s, their grandchildren won't allow them to say anything even remotely offensive. - Jim Painter, News EditorFollow Jim Painter on Facebook at FB.me/jimpainterprescott. Reach him at 928-445-3333, Ext. 2035, 928-642-0560 or firstname.lastname@example.org.