4 in 10 American Millennials, and half of Europeans, think that government should be able to ban “hate speech”

This 2015 Pew poll was mentioned by Lionel Shriver in her piece about the policing of literature tthat I discussed the other day. It shows a surprising degree of censoriousness in various Western countries.  Pew asked people in the U.S. and Europe the following question:

We asked whether people believe that citizens should be able to make public statements that are offensive to minority groups, or whether the government should be able to prevent people from saying these things.

In the US people were sub-classified by age, sex, political affiliation, white vs. nonwhite, and degree of education.

Now in the U.S., this is a straight First Amendment question, as indicated by “whether the government should be able to prevent people from saying these things”, and therefore 100% of people agreeing with that fundamental freedom should agree, regardless of whether they think it’s right or ethical to offend minority groups. (And of course some things that offend some people in minority groups, like the wearing of dreadlocks, are contentious.)

In fact, 4 out of ten Millennials (18-34) agreed that the First Amendment should be ditched. As people got older, they got less censorious.  Among all ages, women were 10% more likely to favor government censorship, and Democrats nearly twice as likely as Republicans (35% vs 18%, respectively).  That appears to show that the Right is more open to free speech than the Left. But of course this isn’t about free speech in general, but free speech that offends minorities. Thus Republicans might favor it more simply because they don’t care whether minorities get offended.

The more education one gets, the less likely one is to favor such censorship.

What surprises me was the degree of general assent to government censorship. But again, maybe people simply don’t understand the First Amendment or how it’s been interpreted. Perhaps they just were triggered by the phrase “statements offensive to minority groups”. But still, if you understand that Amendment—as all Americans should—you should be against government censorhip in toto. 

I’m curious, as well, what people consider “minority groups” in this survey. Muslims and Jews—and in fact all religions save Protestantism (53% of Americans)—are in the minority in the U.S. Does that mean that these people think that the government should censor statements that offend Jews, Catholics, and Muslims, but that it’s okay to offend Protestants? After all what one construes as a “minority group” depends on the beholder. I suspect most people think of it as “racial minority groups”, like blacks and Hispanics: groups traditionally subject to bigotry.

 

But wait! There’s more! It’s even worse in Europe, where 70% of Germans and nearly half of the French think the government should ban such speech (see graph below). Those countries, of course, have hate speech laws that don’t exist in the U.S. To quote Pew:

In Europe, where long-simmering racial tensions are of a different nature, compounded by the recent flow of migrants from North Africa and the Middle East, people are more willing than Americans to accept government controls on speech against minorities. A median of 49% across the six EU nations surveyed say this compared with 28% of Americans.

That’s a big difference.  I suppose that you could say that, okay, Germany is just as well off as the U.S., or even better off, so why can’t we modify the First Amendment in the U.S. to ban offensive statements? The problem is that interpreting “statements offensive to minority groups” is very slippery, and ropes in some issues things that should be criticized, like religious beliefs and actions. Also, I suspect that in the EU, enforcement of these speech laws is either lax or nonexistent.

63 Comments

  1. Ken Phelps
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Yeah. I, for one, am damn sick and tired of all this talking bad about white men and patriarchy. I’m deeply offended by the hate, and may have a touch of PTSD. I look forward to the day when all the haters teaching women’s studies are banned from the public arena.

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    That is a very interesting study and surprising results. I think it must be a lack of education in American History, where most get their exposure to this. The kids seem to know and want regulation of guns, which is good and correct but thinking speech should be regulated is very bad and a serious misunderstanding of the damage this can do. If they are asked specifically, What do you think about the free press, will they say it depends on what they are printing?

    So we have gone from Madison’s day when he believed the constitution and these rights were self evident, to currently not agreeing with it, when it is specifically stated in the first amendment. A serious lack of understanding of their own government and history.

  3. glen1davidson
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    All freedoms depend upon free speech, and associated First Amendment freedoms.

    If they can shut you up for offending someone, how can you even begin to address a very real lack of freedom that has arisen?

    Free speech/media is the medium in which other freedoms can grow and flourish, because those who can be silenced can be mistreated.

    Glen Davidson

  4. Mark R.
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    It seems to me that Millennials have more empathy for minority groups than other generations. I see this in their overwhelming acceptance of the gay community, and support for DACA recipients and movements like Black Lives Matter. Perhaps it is this deeper empathy that creates a more censorious attitude when it comes to the treatment of minorities. Too much of a good thing? Just a theory, which is mine.

    • Craw
      Posted February 25, 2018 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

      I think they have more group-think and a need to signal. I certainly see little empathy for minority opinion, or members of ethnic minorities who do not hold boilerplate positions.

  5. Posted February 25, 2018 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    Follow-up poll question:

    “Should Donald Trump decide what is considered hate speech and what is not?”

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted February 25, 2018 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      Not only that but these kids are showing an ignorance of everything that has been going on for the past 200 years. Our liberty and freedom is kind of wrapped around this understanding of free speech and free press and if you accept otherwise you are no longer accepting your duty as a citizen of this country. These rights are only available and protected here.

      • Posted February 25, 2018 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

        While I agree, I don’t think “duty as a citizen” is our best argument for free speech. Also, an argument from patriotism or authority is definitely not going to convince young people. Nor should it.

        As to free speech being only available here, assuming you mean the US, you might be interested in reading Fareed Zakaria’s Washinton Post column, “Democracy is decaying worldwide. America isn’t immune.”

        https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/democracy-is-decaying-worldwide-america-isnt-immune/2018/02/22/ff670f88-1813-11e8-92c9-376b4fe57ff7_story.html

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted February 25, 2018 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

          I am well aware of the article you refer to and it does not say anything that most of us are not aware of. Certainly Trump and his people have made lots of disgusting comments about the press and other freedoms but that does not mean any of the facts or laws have changed. Trump will be gone soon and the press will remain as they always have.

          If you think it offensive to remind the kids of their civic duties as Americans or to mention patriotism, why is this? You think that to be offensive? How about asking them if they prefer to look at how the press operates in one of those other countries. Tell us how it works in Russia. The reason you see sudden and real change in places like Turkey or many others is that there is no consequences. The guy running the country can do what he wants and nothing happens.

          There would not be a special prosecutor looking into all the activities of their president in any other country in the world either. And there would not be a free press to keep all of us who care, informed on every step of this investigation. You sit here and tell me what I should not say to these kids..that is pretty rich.

          • Posted February 25, 2018 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

            I believe that the Economist’s Democracy Index is not based on what Trump would like to do but actual conditions in each country. And, of course, I hope you are right, both about Trump being gone soon and the press.

            I didn’t say it was offensive to remind kids of civic duties. I said it wasn’t our best argument. They should support the principles we’re talking about because they are good ideas, not because some authority says it is their duty.

            Other countries have rights like we do. South Korea recently investigated their leader and convicted her, to name just one example. In fact, there are many democracies that work better than ours which is what the Economist index is all about.

            • Randall Schenck
              Posted February 25, 2018 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

              One is also reminded that many of the countries doing well with freedoms and some democratic systems are doing so courtesy of assistance from the U.S. In fact most of them would be in that category. The ability to assist other countries in this was, in the past, kind of our exclusive area.

              • Posted February 25, 2018 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

                Perhaps we should ask those other countries to help us now in our time of need.

              • Randall Schenck
                Posted February 25, 2018 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

                Very little chance of that. But something worth mentioning to those young ones today and I am sure something other countries such as Syria wish we still had in us today.

    • Posted February 25, 2018 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

      If the kids want hate speech banned then Trump gets to decide what hate speech is.

      There’s got to be a good lesson in there.

  6. Jan Looman
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    I’m curious.

    Jerry wrote “But still, if you understand that Amendment—as all Americans should—you should be against government censorhip in toto.”

    So this statement implies that if you “understand that Amendment” you should agree with it.

    However, I know that Jerry is also in favor of gun control; which would be in opposition to the 2nd amendment.

    Randell Schenck said “The kids seem to know and want regulation of guns, which is good and correct but thinking speech should be regulated is very bad and a serious misunderstanding of the damage this can do.”

    Again, opposition to 1st Amendment bad, 2nd amendment okay.

    So I am trying to understand how this works. Why is opposition to one Amendment okay, while opposition to another is not.

    I am not saying I agree with stifling free speech, I am just trying to understand the thinking here.

    • Posted February 25, 2018 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      I don’t remember “all Constitutional amendments are equal” being a thing. The Constitution and its amendments can be interpreted and changed. And, yes, opposition to 1st Amendment bad, 2nd amendment okay.

      • glen1davidson
        Posted February 25, 2018 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

        And, yes, opposition to 1st Amendment bad, 2nd amendment okay.

        In principle?

        I think the point is that maybe it is bad to oppose the First Amendment, but not because if you understand the First Amendment you should be against government censorship in toto. A better case has to be made.

        And I believe that it often has been, by Coyne and others. But the one above won’t really do, if you understand it you should be able to discuss it, not necessarily entirely endorse as it is now applied.

        Glen Davidson

        • Posted February 25, 2018 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

          I think we agree. See what I wrote in other comments here. Our best arguments for free speech and against guns should nor be based on what it says in some document, even one as good (generally) as the US Constitution.

          Some days I think that the Constitution should be easier to discuss and change. Then I think about what Trump and friends would do with that and break out in a cold sweat.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted February 25, 2018 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

      Your curiosity presupposes that the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in the Heller case, reached 217 years after the Second Amendment was ratified, was correctly decided. Many of us here think it was not, as a matter of both history and policy. For an overview of why, see here.

      In any event, even assuming Heller was a correct interpretation, as the majority in that case itself observed, given that the Second Amendment’s first clause speaks of a “well regulated militia,” the Second Amendment allows regulation of the right to keep and bear arms. The First Amendment contains no corresponding clause, and the courts have not limited its scope to “well-regulated” speech.

      • Craw
        Posted February 25, 2018 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

        None of which addresses his point, which was a criticism of an argument Coyne made.

      • Bob
        Posted February 26, 2018 at 5:46 am | Permalink

        On the subject of the Second Amendment, may I suggest The Second Amendment by Michael Waldman?

    • Posted February 26, 2018 at 12:26 am | Permalink

      I thought the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution mentioned “well-regulated militias”, not “any random sociopath who wants to shoot up a school”?

      • Posted February 26, 2018 at 12:28 am | Permalink

        Not saying everyone who wants a gun is a sociopath, just that I don’t think everyone getting guns that fire large numbers of bullets in a short time is what your founding fathers had in mind when they added the 2nd Amendment.

  7. Pliny the in Between
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    One way to look at this is that every generation or so society has to take a cold hard look at our freedoms, precedents and laws in light of new knowledge and technology. The current re-evaluation of the Second Amendment in light of advances in weapons technology is an example.

    Advances in social media, information technology, cyber-propaganda, our understanding of neuroplasticity imprinting and learning, re-evaluations of free will, etc. have created a more challenging environment for unrestricted speech. It behooves defenders of speech to take these developments into consideration when approaching those who want to curb these freedoms.

    • Posted February 25, 2018 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

      Of course, constitutional literalists disagree on principle that the Second Amendment should be interpreted in a modern light. However, it seems virtually a tautology that a country that doesn’t let its constitution move with the times is doomed to fail at some point.

  8. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    That appears to show that the Right is more open to free speech than the Left.

    I see that, yesterday at CPAC, in a panel on feminism, arch-conservative National Review writer Mona Charen got roundly booed, and had to be escorted out of the venue by a security detail, when she had the temerity to question the wisdom of the Republican Party’s endorsing credibly accused child-molester Roy Moore and of CPAC’s extending a speaking invitation to French neo-fascist Marion Maréchal-Le Pen.

    The Right has a horrible record on free speech; its new-found commitment to the First Amendment has more to do with sticking it to minorities and liberals than with any honest advocacy for free expression.

  9. Posted February 25, 2018 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    The fastest way to get rid of their nonsense idea is to simply confront them with this:

    “(Remember) when your Lord inspired the angels, “Verily, I am with you, so keep firm those who have believed. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who have disbelieved, so strike them over the necks, and smite over all their fingers and toes.” (acutally severe the neck and all the fingers if you read various translations)”

    That’s written in the Quran, Sure 8:12
    https://quran.com/8

    Then enjoy the show how their heads spin, in fabulous mental gymnastics.

  10. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    What surprises me was the degree of general assent to government censorship.

    Can’t say it surprises me. I think it’s counter-intuitive to be in favor of the open dissemination of ideas one finds abhorrent, coming only with reflection upon the central role unfettered free expression plays in a free, open, democratic society. Most Americans pay lip service to free speech — right up until they run head-on into speech they find truly repugnant.

    • Posted February 25, 2018 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      I agree. Most think of “free speech” as “my right to say anything I want”.

  11. Posted February 25, 2018 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    As usual, several thoughts:

    1. Not all, but some proponents of the 2nd amendment may be adhering to the original intent of the amendment. Some fear the excesses of our own government, or war with other countries, nuclear attack, breakdown of civilization. If one truly believes citizens should be able to defend themselves and country, then weaponry owned by citizens may need to be comparable to that of the “enemy”. This is not my personal viewpoint. I probably wouldn’t use a gun to save my own life (but don’t attack my kids!)

    2. Free speech is essential. Sam Harris promotes “conversation”, the exchange of ideas, as a means of educating people. When I went to see him in Portland, OR several years ago, he had bodyguards. When I went to see him in Portland, OR on Feb. 22, 2018, they were checking purses, contents of pockets, and were wanding people. But, still he speaks. The price of “free speech?”

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted February 25, 2018 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

      The problem is, with the 1st amendment, it is pretty clear. There have been a very few things defined as off limits but generally we know what they are.

      The second amendment is another can of worms entirely. Original intent is not known by all or even agreed to by all. Until more recent times the court accepted that the second amendment did not mean you cannot regulate guns. And many states did just that. Then the more current right wing conservative court said, oh no….everybody gets a gun. There was never a turn around on free speech like this, the trend has always been going in the direction of free.

      • Posted February 25, 2018 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

        In re guns: The U.S also has a subset of weapon enthusiasts who have learned to load their own bullets and stock up on the materials needed. When manufactured weapons and supplies become illegal, they’re prepared to make their own.

        There is also need to address the opposite end of the weapons spectrum whereby guns can be printed/formed out of plastic at home, and other kinds of self-made weaponry. I don’t know that individuals can manufacture their own AR17s, but we do know that certain manufactured weapons can be modified to rapidly shoot more rounds. And people who want, or believe they need weapons, have always been able to make them out of more innocent materials: toothbrushes or spoons sharpened to knives, coshes, socks filled with coins, gasoline in wine bottles, pressure cookers filled with nails or scrap metal, etc.

        We must try to limit the militarization of weaponry in the hands of police forces and citizenry, but that will not end the acquisition, creation and use of weapons by certain people.

  12. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Does that mean that these people think that the government should censor statements that offend Jews, Catholics, and Muslims, but that it’s okay to offend Protestants?

    Don’t know that I’ll ever be able to kick my jones for making fun of WASPs. I mean, I’m sorry, but even their houses smell funny — too much Lysol, not enough garlic.

    • Craw
      Posted February 25, 2018 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

      Lysol is an underrated spice.

  13. Genghis
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    This is splendid news. Men are in the minority both in the USA and the U.K.

  14. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    Both the history of Nazi Germany and the history of attempted book-banning in the USA show how dangerous the attempt to censor (non-harassment) speech is.
    Germany does not seem to draw the appropriate conclusion here.

    Germany’s new laws are primarily targeting online speech in social media, but as The Economist notes they are having problems defining it.
    https://www.economist.com/news/europe/21734410-new-social-media-law-causing-disquiet-germany-silencing-hate-speech-cannot-define-it

    • Posted February 25, 2018 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

      Do not expect Germany to deal adequately with freedom of speech, this country is the wrong address of such a thing.

      Since they have loaded so much guilt upon themselves they are now in a competition showing and proving to the whole world, (especially the media and public voices ) that they are really really good people now. So everywhere they think they found something under suspicion, they will moral accuse immediately.

  15. Robert Seidel
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    > I suspect that in the EU, enforcement of these speech laws is either lax or nonexistent.

    At least in Germany, they’re also pretty narrowly defined. To be enforceable, the speech must be deemed fit to “disturb public peace”. That even goes for the infamous law against glorification or denial of the holocaust. Simply crying “I’m offended!” won’t do the trick. It’s more or less similar to the incitement of violence qualification of the First Amendment, minus the “immediate” bit.

    However, I don’t think the responses in that survey were meant in such a qualified way, and I find those numbers quite disturbing.

    • Posted February 25, 2018 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

      Except in Germany and Poland.

      • Posted February 25, 2018 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

        Sorry. Yet again I jumped too soon, since you cover the German censorship situation.

  16. KP
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    I saw this poll when it was published a couple years ago and sort of chalked it up to youthful ignorance, but I think living in a more diverse society can’t be discounted.

    My adolescent years came at the ass-end of the 80s and the early 90s, during the height of AIDS panic and people putting stickers on “offensive” records. Tipper Gore aside, censorship for my generation was seen as a tool of the right, so watching young, progressive people all too eager to be the moral authority is a little disorienting, to say the least.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted February 25, 2018 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

      Hair-metal bands, blockbuster movies, and 10 years of Reagan-Bush — did the 80s have anything besides an ass-end? 🙂

      • XCellKen
        Posted February 26, 2018 at 6:40 am | Permalink

        Disco, movies about disco, and high inflation and interest rates. Did the 70s have anything besides an ass end ?

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted February 26, 2018 at 8:33 am | Permalink

          Ya got me there. Big fat ties and Gerald Ford ugly-American sports jackets, too.

  17. pck
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    Context matters a lot.

    Germany and many other European countries have gone through certain historical events that gave them a broad cultural consensus that certain types of speech should just not be discussed.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verbotsgesetz_1947

    They’re narrowly aimed at national socialist content and I think hardly anyone would even consider getting rid of these laws.

    • pck
      Posted February 25, 2018 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

      Accidentally linked to the Austrian version of it…

    • Craw
      Posted February 25, 2018 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

      Are you referring to the banning of the Nazi party and its publications?

      The bans in in the Weimar Republic I mean.

      • pck
        Posted February 26, 2018 at 9:11 am | Permalink

        Yes, clearly I am referring to that and not the incredibly obvious other thing that anyone who is not arguing in bad faith would think of.

  18. tomh
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    Have to remember that in many (most?) places in the US the First Amendment is merely a placeholder to get to the Second.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted February 25, 2018 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

      Actually, the second it more like the third. Both should have been removed as we moved into the 18th century or soon after. Yet there they are and I sure am glad I have no foreign troops in my house.

      • XCellKen
        Posted February 26, 2018 at 6:45 am | Permalink

        My house is filled with German Cockroaches

      • Posted February 27, 2018 at 6:42 am | Permalink

        Or US troops …

  19. Jake Sevins
    Posted February 25, 2018 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    White males are a minority in the U.S. (in the sense than they comprise less than 50% of the people here).

  20. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted February 26, 2018 at 1:09 am | Permalink

    The problem is that interpreting “statements offensive to minority groups” is very slippery, and ropes in some issues things that should be criticized, like religious beliefs and actions. Also, I suspect that in the EU, enforcement of these speech laws is either lax or nonexistent.

    I will note this again then: There is no statistical evidence of a practical problem or slippery slope – as this is adjucated in courts – nor any evidence of the oppoosite. It may or may not be useful to increase societal happiness (say).

    The enforcment is sparse, yes, because of the requirement of seriousness (absence of “slippery slope”). Which explains the lack of interest from the governments (no statistics of effect).

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted February 26, 2018 at 1:14 am | Permalink

      Ouch, the lack of morning coffee… Splling all wrong.

  21. Posted February 26, 2018 at 3:59 am | Permalink

    Frankly, I’m relieved that most Germans, Italians and Poles seem to think there should be some difference between the public debate atmosphere of 1938 and the one today…

    But I wouldn’t recommend any changes in the US constitution.

    • Posted March 10, 2018 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      In 1938, the problem in Germany and Italy was not free speech but lack of it. As for Poland, I do not understand what you mean, because I do not find anything wrong with public debate atmosphere in Poland before Germany attacked it.

      As for today’s Germany, the anti-free speech laws do not prevent the country from trying to boss other countries around and to be the bully of Europe.

  22. CJColucci
    Posted February 26, 2018 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    How popular has free speech ever been? I can’t remember a time when at least significant pluralities of people weren’t in favor of banning some kind of “offensive” speech, or firing people for holding “politically incorrect” views back when different notions of what was politically correct held sway. I’m too busy and too lazy to research old polling data, but I doubt that my memory is far off the mark. Is what we’re seeing now really new, or just a change in targets?

    • Posted February 27, 2018 at 6:41 am | Permalink

      Hence the 1st Amendment was dded to the US Constitution! The founders knew this!

      • CJColucci
        Posted February 27, 2018 at 11:04 am | Permalink

        I know I make frequent jokes about being old, but the times I can remember — when I can remember them — all post-date the First Amendment.

  23. Posted February 26, 2018 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    The US has invented some horrible things (nuclear weapons, Reaganomics …) but also some wonderful things (the personal computer, The Muppets). One of the wonderful things is the First Amendment. We (all humans at least) should protect it.

  24. Posted February 27, 2018 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    I don’t care if people are offended (and I’m not a republican).

    I agree with the basic position the SCOTUS has held on free speech.

    If you don’t like it, change the channel, don’t go to the speech, or organize your own speech.

    Asking to censor ideas you don’t like is admitting that your own ideas aren’t strong enough to stand up to the bad ideas you don’t like. Seems like a very bad tactic. Seems like it might be time to carefully examine your own ideas and figure out how they stand up. Debating someone who disagrees with you might be a good way to start. (And put away the fainting couch!)


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