New Campaign For Free Speech polling results demonstrate just how vulnerable free speech protections are in the United States.
CFS polling results show:
51% of Americans think the First Amendment is outdated and should be rewritten.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.
48% believe “hate speech” should be illegal. (“Hate speech” is not defined—we left it up to the individual participant.) 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.
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.
What explains these results?
We believe there are at least two factors at play. One is the obvious polarization of politics and the media. While many who identify as conservative may dislike the reporting of CNN and would likely favor sanctions for “fake news,” many progressives or liberals may feel the same way towards Fox News.
Second, we hear much about “hate speech.” Although the term is never defined, most agree that it should be opposed, rebuked, and criticized. But should it be punished by the government? If the government is in charge of determining what is hate speech, then it inevitably becomes political—a weapon that can be used to punish people on the other side of an issue.
We believe it is time to reconnect with the central tenets of the First Amendment. Free speech is a non-partisan issue that has always been a cornerstone of our democracy and critical for a free society.
Click here for the full survey results.