A poll shows that a majority of Americans think the First Amendment is outdated and should be revised.
The Campaign for Free Speech survey found that 51% of Americans say the First Amendment should be rewritten and 48% say that “hate speech” should be illegal.
The percentages are even higher among millennials — 57% say the First Amendment should be rewritten to “reflect the cultural norms of today,” and 54% say an appropriate punishment for “hate speech” could be jail time.
“These new polling results indicate free speech is under more threat than previously believed,” media lawyer Robert D. Lystad, executive director of the Campaign for Free Speech, said in an email to The Washington Times. “America can’t be a free country without open dialogue and a robust press.”
The campaign’s national survey of 1,004 adults in September also found:
⦁ 78% of Americans do not understand what rights the First Amendment protects.
⦁ 57% believe the government “should be able to take action against newspapers and TV stations that publish content that is biased, inflammatory, or false.”
⦁ 36% support the formation of a government agency to police speech in podcasts and other media.
The Campaign for Free Speech, a pending 501(c)(3) organization founded by First Amendment advocates, trumpeted its message that “free speech is under attack in America” this week on billboards in New York City’s Times Square.
The poll results were released during a time when free speech has become a central issue, with social networks wrangling over how to present political advertising and student groups challenging “safe spaces” on college campuses.
According to the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
“If dissent were popular, we wouldn’t need the Constitution to protect it,” Brian Hauss, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberty Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, said in an email to The Times. “The ACLU will continue to defend the First Amendment rights of everyone.”
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey this week announced that his social network is banning all political advertising, except for encouraging voter turnout. Twitter said its platform gives advertisers an unfair advantage to spread highly targeted, misleading messages.
The firm’s full policy will be unveiled Nov. 15.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has testified before Congress that politicians have the right to free speech on his social network and that his Silicon Valley-based firm will not fact-check ads by politicians or their campaigns.
Meanwhile, President Trump this year signed an executive order requiring any school receiving federal funds to extend free speech protections to all men and women on its campus.
The issue reached a boiling point recently at the University of Michigan, where a lawsuit challenged the constitutionality of the school’s “Bias Response Teams,” which investigated speech conduct seen as discriminatory or harassment.
The Washington-based nonprofit advocacy group Speech First opposed the Bias Response Team system. It argued that students’ rights of expression had been chilled on a range of issues, including gun rights, illegal immigration and abortion.
The University of Michigan settled the case last week and ended the Bias Response Teams after the lawsuit stalled in a federal appeals court.
“Universities are at it again, proving that the temptation for the powerful to silence their critics can be strong indeed,” Thomas Jipping, of The Heritage Foundation’s Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, wrote Wednesday in The Daily Signal online conservative journal.
This week, leading academics warned that the environment for free speech on some campuses is akin to “thought control” or “ideological fascism.”
“What we have today is thought control rather than the premise of thoughtful debate. It’s ideological fascism,” former American University President Everett Piper said Tuesday on Fox News.
“The declining popularity of free speech in America is extremely concerning,” Mr. Lystad of the Campaign for Free Speech said in a press release. “While certain types of speech may make some feel uncomfortable, free speech protection is an all-or-nothing ballgame. ‘Fake news’ or ‘hate speech’ may be the target of suppression efforts today, but tomorrow, it may be your speech.”
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