Monday, June 16, 2008

Free Speech, By The Numbers

Rasmussen recently released some polling statistics on the issue of free speech. The numbers are troubling. No, make that horrific.

Twenty-eight percent (28%) think it is a good idea to ban hate speech, which is loosely defined as comments intended to put down or incite violence against people on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and other legally protected categories. Nearly one in five voters (19%) are undecided on whether such a ban is necessary.

First, let's let a shiver go down the spine. These are Americans we're talking about, not Canadians.

Now, let's recover and think for a moment.

The article starts by saying that fully 88% of Americans "strongly guard their right to free speech." That's a little vague to say the least, but at least it suggests that those polled believe they have one, even if very few are likely to have ever read the Constitution. It's in the air, so to speak.

So what have the 28% been breathing? A "good idea to ban hate speech..."

Er, to be defined by whom? The Supreme Court? The Congress? Some politically correct chancellor of the University of Madison, Wisconsin, like Donna Shalala ?

[Note: the numbers add up when you read that "(53%) say the United States should refrain from banning so-called 'hate speech.'"]

I can only hope for the sake of their souls that these people have never actually heard of the First Amendment. No, I take it back. It would make no difference to that sort of person. Their desired form of social behavior would trump a mere triviality like a Constitutionally-enshrined right to the most basic freedom possible. That answers the question "good, how?"

"It is not clear to me that the Europeans are mistaken,” Jeremy Waldron, a legal philosopher, wrote in The New York Review of Books last month, “when they say that a liberal democracy must take affirmative responsibility for protecting the atmosphere of mutual respect against certain forms of vicious attack.”

Certainly. An air of mutual respect. And that will be achieved by coercive government muzzling of opinion, how exactly? Yes, certainly, stopping some harsh words from being spoken out loud, for heaven's sake, is much more important than the free speech clause of the First Amendment, and every advance in American culture it has made possible.

Fortunately, the courts in America do largely recognize that right. Among other cases,

[A] state court judge in New York dismissed a libel case brought by several Puerto Rican groups against a business executive who had called food stamps “basically a Puerto Rican program.” The First Amendment, Justice Eve M. Preminger wrote, does not allow even false statements about racial or ethnic groups to be suppressed or punished just because they may increase “the general level of prejudice.”

Still, you have to wonder what those 19% who can't make up their mind on the subject are divided about. Perhaps, they should move to Canada, where they can be given a little moral assistance.

"Equally revealing was a comment from Dean Steacy, an investigator for the Canadian Human Rights Commission. When asked what value he gives to free speech in his investigations, Steacy breezily dismissed the question. 'Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don't give it any value,' he said."(Jacob Laskin discussing the MacLean's/Steyn trial.)

Scary. I live in Northern Idaho. What a difference sixty miles makes. Then again, maybe not.


madmax said...

I just recently came across this article by Stephen Hicks on Postmodernism and Free Speech. It really is good. I shows how modern philosophy demands speech violations.


"What we have then are two positions about the nature of speech. The postmodernists say: Speech is a weapon in the conflict between groups that are unequal. And that is diametrically opposed to the [Classical] liberal view of speech, which says: Speech is a tool of cognition and communication for individuals who are free."

madmax said...

link got cut off:

Jeff Perren said...


That's a very insightful quote; I'll have to read the entire article. Thanks for that.

As a rational person, I tend to forget that many see life in terms of class warfare, rather than the pursuit of values. That makes it hard for me to think like what I call the "anti(s)."