Why isn’t there more support for free speech?
Could it be that students have been taught to hold free speech in contempt?
Clearly, U-C Berkeley is neither instilling respect for freedom of expression, nor it seems, is even capable of clearly stating the plain law regarding it.
The kids aren’t picking it up in high school either. In addition to the Berkeley riots, last week saw the release of the Knight’s Foundation’s Future of the First Amendment survey for 2016. This survey published every few years tracks high school students and teachers’ attitudes about freedom of speech.
The survey’s sponsors and the New York Times claim the results are good news for free speech. The Times announced its publication with the headline “First Amendment Support Climbing Among High School Students.” Well, that’s one way to look at it. There was a significant increase in students who said “[p]eople should be able to express unpopular opinions” from 83% in 2004 to 91% in 2016. Very good.
Notwithstanding the Times’ assertions to the contrary, the data provides cold comfort for those who revere the right to say what we damn well, please. Personally, I found the results disheartening in what looks like another beating for the First Amendment. The most troubling statistics can be seen here:
Witness the last twenty years and twenty-point rise in students who think the First Amendment goes too far. How that indicates anything other than a culture-wide failure to instill support for free speech is beyond me. It seems to indicate the opposite of climbing support.
Then there’s this:
As the United States and the leadership positions in the country throughout business, government, and culture become populated by fewer and fewer whites and males, it seems that change will also bring an increased hostility to freedom of expression. This survey gives rise to a rational preference for the ever-dreaded white male! Why women and minorities are so hostile to others’ views is not analyzed.
Perhaps there is some way to ensure young people are properly instructed in the value of free expression — and maybe even learn to celebrate it. Perhaps newly installed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos could be of help. We can only hope.
But if the tide doesn’t turn soon, the legal freedom to speak as we please will be reduced to a memory – something we tell our children about that once existed in these United States of America.