Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Nearly Half of Millennials Would Bitch Slap the First Amendment

No, the Pew Center did not put that headline on their recent study regarding the attitude of millennials toward the idea of regulating speech offensive to minorities. But Pew did announce that forty percent of responding millennials supported the idea of government restrictions on speech offensive to minorities.

You can read the Pew Center's summary here.


As you can see from the above summary, the support for government restrictions on freedom of speech declines with age: Millennials, at 40%, Gen Xers, at 27%, Baby Boomers, at 24%, and Silent Majority, at 12%. The study does not tell us about the future. It does not proffer that millennials will, with maturity and experience, learn to value more deeply the right to freedom of speech. In other words, it does not illuminate whether those of us among the other groups studied came to value the First Amendment because of life experience, or whether the valuing of this most basic and fundamental liberty is set in at an early time.

Another organization, the First Amendment Center, has studied the understanding of the First Amendment among the public, among school administrators, among teachers, and among students for years. I mention the First Amendment Center at this point because I have a suspicion that some portion of the loss of esteem for the right to freedom of speech can be blamed on the formation of the mind of the American public school student. You can read the results of their 2014 survey on the First Amendment here. Disturbingly, a full 29% of survey respondents COULD NOT NAME A SINGLE RIGHT PROTECTED BY THE FIRST AMENDMENT.

Now, the Knight Foundation has also been surveying attitudes about the First Amendment, and there is some hope there. As the graphic below indicates, current students in public schools -- for the first time in the history of the Foundation's survey -- support free speech and restrictions on government interference with speech in greater numbers than teachers:


But the question today concerns millennials, those who came of age in the new century, not their younger sisters and brothers. Will those younger siblings teacher their siblings well?

Can there be any surprise that those who do not know about these rights may not value you them as others do? Can there be any surprise that those who do not value these rights may not object to their minimization and denial?

So, of course, there is a disturbance in the Force today ... the Force of liberty, of individual autonomy, of freedom. And while millennials might want to believe that they are on the cutting edge of the advance of such concerns, the Pew Center's study gives us power reason to be concerned for the gap between millennials and a core set of American values.