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Is free speech doomed?

Empower Wisconsin | Oct. 25, 2019

By M.D. Kittle 

MADISON — Kurt Vonnegut once said, “True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.” 

Welcome to terror. 

We know that a lot of high schoolers and college students are willing to trade freedom for emotional safety. But what of the rest of us? 

A new poll by Campaign For Free Speech finds a majority of Americans — 51 percent — think the First Amendment needs a re-write. Nearly as many — 48 percent — believe “hate speech” should be illegal. About half of those who want to criminalize what they deem to be hate speech think offenders should be jailed. 

And ignorance shall lead them. The poll found about 80 percent of respondents don’t know what the First Amendment protects. Spoiler Alert: It protects many of the things they hate. 

One poll respondent declared, “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.”

Nope. 

The First Amendment, as the Campaign for Free Speech notes, prevents the government from punishing speakers for their speech, with some obvious exceptions. 

How on earth did we get here? The Campaign for Free Speech has a few ideas on the subject. 

“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,” the organization asserts. 

“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.’

These free expression advocates say it’s time to reconnect with the central tenets of the First Amendment, and to take partisanship out of this sacred right. 

As a journalist, as an American and huge fan of my nation’s exceptional constitution, I couldn’t agree more. 

Now, if we could only get these high school kids disguised as political leaders to join the campaign … 

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