A Quick Primer on the First Amendment
First things first (pun intended), most folks don’t even know what the First Amendment protects.
“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.”
The basis of freedom lies within that small paragraph. If you want to be able to access information other than that which is provided by the government, or be able to speak out when you believe that the government is in the wrong without fear of governmental prosecution, then you should be utterly horrified that more than half of Americans are ready to just get rid of it.
But that might be because a whopping majority of Americans don’t understand the First Amendment. CFS reports:
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 (with exceptions such as yelling “fire” in a crowded area to induce panic).
But more broadly, freedom of speech does not mean you are protected from social consequences for your speech. You may have the right to say something extreme or hateful and not get thrown in jail, but others in society have the right to shun you. (source)
This is something we’ve mentioned repeatedly here: just because you have the “right” to say something, it doesn’t mean that others don’t have the “right” to think you’re a terrible person and no longer do business with you. The freedom to say something doesn’t free you from the repercussions of what you say. It just means you can’t be prosecuted for it.
Here’s what the Campaign for Free Speech’s survey found.
Despite (or maybe because of) not understanding the First Amendment, 51% believed that the First Amendment is outdated and needs to be rewritten to “reflect the cultural norms of today.” Nearly half of those surveyed (48%) believed that “hate speech” should be illegal, with half of those people considering jail time a reasonable punishment. The poll did not define “hate speech,” leaving it up to the respondent.
Bob Lystad, the executive director of the Campaign for Free Speech (CFS) told the Washington Beacon that “free speech is under more threat than previously believed.”
“The findings are frankly extraordinary…Our free speech rights and our free press rights have evolved well over 200 years, and people now seem to be rethinking them.” (source)
More than 60% of those surveyed wanted to see free speech curbed in some way.
Of the 1,004 respondents, young people were the most likely to support curbing free expression and punishing those who engage in “hate speech.” Nearly 60 percent of Millennials—respondents between the ages of 21 and 38—agreed that the Constitution “goes too far in allowing hate speech in modern America” and should be rewritten, compared to 48 percent of Gen Xers and 47 percent of Baby Boomers. A majority of Millennials also supported laws that would make “hate speech” a crime—of those supporters, 54 percent said violators should face jail time. (source)