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Should Government Censor Offensive Speech? 40% of Millennials Say Yes. That’s a Problem.

| November 29, 2015

george carlin free speech

He’s rolling in his grave. (Billy Warhol)

By Nancy Smith

As much as we talk about protecting the First Amendment in this country, with each generation apparently we get further away from understanding it.

Don’t we teach the Constitution in civics classes anymore?


A just-released Pew Research Center survey concludes that with each subsequent generation comes a greater willingness to let government tell us what we can and cannot say — in essence, surrender the precious freedom of speech our forefathers guaranteed in the Constitution.

The survey asked whether people believe citizens should be able to make public statements offensive to minority groups, or whether the government should be able to prevent people from saying these things. Forty percent of Millennials — people aged 18-34 — said the government should be able to gag people from publicly making statements that offend minority groups; 58 percent said such speech is OK.

Compare that to the Silent Generation (ages 70-87): only 12 percent of the oldest generation think the government should shut them up; a whopping 80 percent of them said, like it or not, we get to say what we think.

In between those polar opposites are first the Generation Xers (ages 35-50) with 27 percent and  70 percent respectively; and then the Boomers (ages 51-69) with 24 percent and 71 percent respectively. Have a look at the Pew graph on this page.

pew research survey on free speechSurprisingly, perhaps, the Pew Research Center finds nearly twice as many Democrats say the government should be able to stop speech against minorities (35 percent) compared with Republicans (18 percent). Independents, as is often the case, find themselves in the middle. One-third of all women say the government should be able to curtail speech offensive to minorities, as opposed to 23 percent of men who say the same.

I find all these numbers appalling.

The fact that 40 percent of millennials think government censorship of free speech — even if it might be interpreted by some as bigoted and offensive —  is a good thing … that is a problem. Forty percent. Think about it: You either live in a free country or you don’t. And a government that can sanction or punish you for giving your opinion is not the government of a free country and it certainly isn’t the government of the one our forefathers founded.

The number of people too ignorant to understand this is growing rapidly, as the graph suggests. When the Millennials have kids of voting age — something that will begin to happen in less than 20 years — we could have a generation the majority of which will support government-imposed penalties on politically incorrect speech. Which the government will then get to define. And that majority will pick a president who will pick the Supreme Court that defines the limits of free speech.

You can guess the rest.

The Pew survey — for sure, under the radar and hardly front-page fare — is nevertheless a sobering wakeup call.  The results seem to me an indictment of both our culture and our educational system, taken over by people hostile to our values as a country.

We can’t remain faithful to the First Amendment by turning our backs when it’s put to its severest test — the right to freedom of speech for those whose views we despise the most.

My fellow conservatives aren’t crazy about the American Civil Liberties Union, I know. But I maintain they’re wrong. I remember one of the most noted moments in ACLU history. It occurred in 1978 when the organization defended a Nazi group that wanted to march through the Chicago suburb of Skokie, Illinois, where many Holocaust survivors lived. The ACLU persuaded a federal court to strike down three ordinances that placed significant restrictions on the Nazis’ First Amendment right to march and express their views. The decision to take the case was a demonstration of the ACLU’s commitment to the principle that constitutional rights must apply to even the most unpopular groups if they’re going to be preserved for everyone. Many now consider this one of the ACLU’s finest hours.

The principles of the First Amendment — including freedom of speech — are indivisible. Extend them on behalf of one group and they protect all groups. Deny them to one group, and all groups suffer.

nancy smith sunshine state news columnistNancy Smith is the editor of Sunshine State News. She started her career at the Daily Mirror and The Observer in London before spending 28 years at The Stuart News/Port St. Lucie News as managing editor and associate editor. She was president of the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors in the mid-1990s. Reach her by email here, or follow her on twitter at @NancyLBSmith.

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33 Responses for “Should Government Censor Offensive Speech? 40% of Millennials Say Yes. That’s a Problem.”

  1. joe says:

    Government can never censor the American people no matter what the polls say. Freedom of speech. This article is trying to play on fears and emotions

  2. BeachcomberT says:

    Disappointing — but not surprising, in my view — that one-third of Democrats and one-quarter of “independents” now favor censorship of “offensive” speech attacking minorities. Political correctness and “civil discourse” are the new mottoes. Then it’s just a short step to surveillance of everyone and “top secret” classification of any information deemed a threat to the government. Totalitarianism creeps in with a smiling face. The media abet the process by either eliminating reader comments completely — as a Daytona Beach daily did a few years ago — or subjecting them to intense editing that becomes “censorship lite.” Much as I dislike the racist rhetoric of Donald Trump, I’d rather hear it expressed openly than forced underground into whispering campaigns or statements delivered in thinly veiled code.

  3. Robert says:

    These millennials should put down their smartphones, read George Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four, and reconsider what they are asking for, before they all become Winston Smiths’ to Big Brother. Just a thought.

  4. Gladfly says:

    Fuck government. Print that.

  5. Sherry says:

    I am thinking that these charts also indicate that our younger generations, Democrats and women are more aware and concerned with the racism and discrimination that continues to exist and be championed even by conservation Presidential candidates.

    My opinion, however, is that adding even more government censorship is not the solution to racism. The government at the federal and state level does have a huge role in balancing the scales of justice by requiring that ALL persons be treated EQUALLY under the laws of our land and that EQUAL OPPORTUNITY to education and career paths be stridently enforced. But, the government further limiting speech and other forms of communication will not end this terrible divide.

    Our society bears the responsibility and burden of evolving beyond the fear and hatred of our fellow brothers and sisters of the human species. It begins with how we raise our children, how our educational system celebrates all races and all religions and all cultures, and how our laws require EQUALITY. . . NOT how they take away our freedoms. . . but, how our government, at every level, mandates that those freedoms and rights be applied EQUALLY!

  6. YankeeExPat says:

    “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.”
    ― John Milton

  7. Dave says:

    Wow, so much to say but let me say this. Currently in this country people find it politically incorrect to say ‘God Bless America, Merry Christmas, In God We trust, not to mention saluting our troops and or flag. All because of offending people that were NOT born here. An example’ http://insider.foxnews.com/2015/11/27/georgia-sheriff-mike-jolley-proud-be-politically-incorrect

  8. Just me says:

    Very scary that so many are afraid of differing opinions as to want the GOVERNMENT to silence it. Those same have little clue on just what the Constitution is they see it as what the federal government should do as too its real porpoises a limit on the federal government and securing our natural rights NOT granting them. We have the right to express our opinions we do not have the right to silence those we disagree with.

  9. Brian Riehle says:

    Here’s a “Trigger Alert” for all those Millennials…read the U.S. Constitution. Especially that nasty little part about Freedom Of Speech.

  10. scoff the cuff says:

    Proof of our education in decline, again.
    What’s the term “minority” anymore anyway, but divisive. And who wants America divided, but its enemies, foreign and domestic.
    Speak to be heard, and listen close.

  11. groot says:

    I have to agree with Gladfly, locally anyway. I have never seen so much self absorption and lack of accountability at the local level in all my days. Regarding censoring offensive language, I don’t give a shit what people say but no F bombs in front of the little ones.

  12. Jack Howell says:

    The problem with the Millennial’s is that they can’t comprehend what they are reading! They are illiterate.

  13. Anonymous says:

    The first amendment within the freedom of speech WAS/IS specifically meant for speech the government and or some might find/see as offensive,

  14. GFY Gov says:

    Like what Gladfly said:….DITTO

  15. Rick G says:

    I am a dyed in the wool Progressive and I hear many things via Faux News and right wing radio that disgust me, however it is obvious in the Constitution that those things spoken are within the rights of all. Of course there are those exceptions like shouting fire in a crowded theater etc… but much of what we hear today can be offensive to some. I say change the channel, move away from the speaker or devise a means by which you can get your own views via speech or print out there. Long live the 1st and 4th Amendments

  16. Oldseadog says:

    “Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”

    ——[Special Message to the Congress on the Internal Security of the United States, August 8, 1950]”

    Harry S. Truman

  17. Common Sense says:

    No, Dave, you are wrong. Many Americans don’t celebrate Christmas, they don’t believe in God and do find it politically incorrect to say God Bless America. AMERICANs come in different colors, different religions, different attitudes. We are not homogeneous. Not everyone born in this country turns into a middle aged white guy who hates everyone who has different beliefs. Nevertheless we are Americans too, yes even born here.

  18. Outsider says:

    I believe this proves many are just plain lazy. Rather than go through the trouble of formulating an argument against the speech they find “offensive,” they would prefer to just have the government make a law against it, allowing them to get back to texting on their cellphones and watching “Dancing With the Stars.”

  19. Nancy N. says:

    Thank you Common Sense for pointing out that not every good red blooded American believes as Dave does. This white, forty-something, female, Michigan-born atheist finds it highly offensive to have religion shoved down my throat every day on this country’s money, the pledge of allegiance, and numerous other ways that you probably don’t even notice if you are a “good Christian”.

  20. Scoobydoo says:

    Hey nancy i bet u will be asking for God on your death bed.. Just sayin, always happens

  21. Sherry says:

    Right On, Nancy N and Common Sense!

    I am a very spiritual person whose beliefs are closer to Buddhism than any other religion. I live my life consciously including and loving my fellow human beings regardless of race, country of origin, sexual preference, gender, culture and religion, or lack there of. I will most certainly NOT be asking for God on my death bed as I “know” that the spirit of a universal higher power is within each one of us. I am already blessed every moment of every day. . . from within.

    Requiring every citizen of the USA to conform to “Christian” values and traditions is unacceptable to me and to many, many others in our community, and around our nation. OPEN your minds and hearts in a positive and accepting way to the diversity that makes our country uniquely the center of true freedom on our planet. Our freedoms and rights, as defined in our constitution, include the freedom of religion and the right to not subscribe to or be controlled by ANY religion.

    Our freedom of speech should not be curtailed further by our governments/laws. HOWEVER. . . that does not mean that we as a society should just sit back and accept HATE communications of any kind! What in the world is so wrong with “Political Correctness”? Except that maybe the term should be changed to “Societal Correctness”. Should we not have “manners”? Should our children not be raised to be KIND to ALL others and communicate that way? Should we all be so self involved, and self important that we do not consider the impact and influence of what we say in public and the feelings of others? Should we not endeavor to evolve away from communicating like fearful, hateful, warring animals. . . towards more enlightened beings of peace, compassion and loving kindness? Isn’t that what even Christian leaders require of their followers?

  22. Gladfly says:

    Thanks groot and Rick G says: I draw the line with any offensive language in front of children. As far as the rest of the government and disrespect for the Constitution…FUCK ‘EM!

  23. Just me says:

    @ common sense HOW true ~ Not everyone born in this country turns into a middle aged white guy who hates everyone who has different beliefs. Most who HATE those with differing belief’s are Progressives, leftists or just plane old Ds

  24. Nancy N. says:

    Well, I stand corrected. There is an all-knowing power in the world and apparently it’s name is Scoobydoo, because Scooby seems to know what was in the hearts and minds in their last moments. of every atheist who’s ever died.

    Newsflash Scooby…there’s atheists in graveyards. And foxholes. And schools. And Congress. And the post office. And the grocery store.

    We’re all around you in places you go every day.

    Better check under your bed before you turn out the lights…

  25. Nancy N. says:

    Just me says – wait a minute, who is fomenting hate again? It’s conservative candidates that appeared at a forum with a religious leader known for saying that gays should be executed. It’s the leading conservative candidate who is shouting from the podium encouraging his thug boots to beat up protesters. A wildly popular popular conservative “Christian” blogger has publicly called for the murder of doctors who perform abortions. Mainstream conservative leaders would rather let children die than admit them to our country because of the color of their skin and their religion.

    That’s not just hate. That’s an outright homicidal rage at anyone who is different than them.

  26. Anonymous says:

    That 40% of millennial would limit free speech shocks me. The article doesn’t shock me — I’ve seen this all over the media — but I never thought I’d see it in my lifetime. Like the author says, free speech is free speech. We cannot and should not be protected from it.

    The moral superiority speech of our president and even from some posters on here is contrary to protecting free speech as in our constitution. Free speech zones, be nice zones, it’s all fascism. Control speech = control the masses. Don’t tell me what a wonderful person you are, just protect my rights and those of every citizen.

  27. Lin says:

    That 40% of millennials would limit free speech shocks me. The article doesn’t shock me — I’ve seen this all over the media — but I never thought I’d see it in my lifetime. Like the author says, free speech is free speech. We cannot and should not be protected from it.

    The moral superiority speech of our president and even from some posters on here is contrary to protecting free speech as in our constitution. Free speech zones, be nice zones, it’s all fascism. Control speech = control the masses. Don’t tell me what a wonderful person you are, just protect my rights and those of every citizen.

  28. Scoobydooscoobydoo says:

    Hey nancy ive been in a foxhole honey and every atheist screams oh God oh God no please… Explain

  29. Lancer says:

    Why not?

    FlaglerLive does it in the comment section…EVERY DAY.

    • FlaglerLive says:

      Lancer, you’re absolutely right: we moderate comments just as we would if this forum were a letters to the editor page: this is not a free-speech zone. It’s a reasonable-comment zone (much as we fail to keep it reasonable more often than not: our staff of 600 can only do so much). If you don’t have anything intelligent to say, FlaglerLive has no obligation to be your platform. Read our comment policy.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Hey Scoob I’ve been in a fox hole too and what guys were screaming can’t be printed here. And there was no mention of god. Of course if there actually had been a god then it wouldn’t be necessary to have been in the fox hole given all those good things he or she does… right???

  31. Rick G says:

    Hey Scoob I’ve been in a fox hole too and what guys were screaming can’t be printed here. And there was no mention of god. Of course if there actually had been a god then it wouldn’t be necessary to have been in the fox hole given all those good things he or she does… right???

  32. NortonSmitty says:

    Voltaire said “If you wish to know who really rules you, look to who you cannot criticize.” You all talk abut Political Correctness bullshit, try to say one criticism of Israel in America today. Exibit A, from Diane Feinstien, American Senator representing TelAviv: http://azvsas.blogspot.com/2015/09/dianne-feinstein-fighting-against-free.html

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