Tuesday, September 13, 2016

"In America you can say just about any offensive thing imaginable, directed at just about any group or person imaginable, and you’ll be okay."

The Coming Free Speech Apocalypse: "Americans generally do not appreciate the United States’ astonishing free speech regime, particularly compared to the historical bastions of political liberalism in Western Europe. The French penal code criminalizes “defamation” of people based on “their membership or non-membership, real or supposed, of an ethnic group, nation, race or religion;” in Britain the police can investigate you for criticizing Muslims; in Ireland they have something called the “Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act,” which prohibits “inciting” “hatred” against anyone based on, among other factors, “membership [in] the travelling community” and “sexual orientation” (Ireland also forbids speech that “undermine[s] public order or morality or the authority of the State”). Even our neighbor to the north, Canada, forbids people from “incit[ing] hatred against any identifiable group.” America is not like that: in the United States, you can incite hatred against a gay gypsy Muslim bureaucrat, even specifically because he is a gay gypsy Muslim bureaucrat, and you will not be thrown in jail. In America you can say just about any offensive thing imaginable, directed at just about any group or person imaginable, and you’ll be okay. Add to that the strong protections for political speech that statute and Supreme Court precedent have established, and America is almost unique among the nations of the world in terms of freedom of expression. We have it good. But that might not always be the case. In fact in the very near future American free speech may be sharply curtailed...

Some poll numbers suggest as much: two-thirds of Americans, for instance, think people who engage in “hate speech” are “more dangerous” than the people who would censor it. Among younger Americans—millennials—the polls indicate a staggering opposition to freedom of speech: out of 800 students polled at colleges across the country, more than a third believed the First Amendment does not protect “hate speech,” with a third also claiming the First Amendment is “outdated;” more than half believe colleges should have speech codes to police the speech of students and professors. Forty percent of millennials, meanwhile, think government should be able to censor “offensive statements about minorities.” Indeed, millennials appear to be the most censorious generation alive. As older generations die off or become less politically active, we can assume that more and more anti-free speech millennials will make up a larger and larger share of the electorate. All of which is to say: if we are worried about the anti-free speech ambitions of our two presidential candidates and the parties they represent, we should also be concerned about the American body politic, a substantial percentage of which is greatly inclined to censor “offensive” speech. A generation so inclined to muzzle its fellow Americans could pose an existential threat to the First Amendment."

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