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In Which Prominent Western Democracy

do 42% of respondents to a recent survey disagree with the proposition that "People should be allowed to say things in public that might be offensive to religious groups," and 54% disagree with the proposition that "People should be allowed to say things in public that might be offensive to racial groups"?

In 1997, by the way, the numbers who likewise concluded that people shouldn't be allowed to say things that might be offensive to religious or racial groups were 53% and 75%, respectively. Note that the question wasn't phrased to cover only speech that is aimed at producing violence, discrimination, hatred, or even hostility, but rather to generally cover public speech "that might be offensive" to certain groups.

But wait, there's more: In that country, 38% of respondents agreed with the statement that "The government should be allowed to require broadcasters to report a specified amount of 'positive' news ...," and 62% stated agreed that "The government should be allowed to require newspapers to offer an equal allotment of time to ... commentators" of opposite ideology. I'm glad that here in the U.S., we have the First Amendment, and the Supreme Court has generally read it in a way that means such restrictions can't be imposed here.

The answer is here, though if you want to guess it, please avoid putting your cursor on the link, because the URL may suggest the answer to you.

Tracy Johnson (www):
You can't a response like "Great is Diana of the Ephesians!" and get run out of town unless you're willing to offend somebody!
9.22.2008 12:35pm
Deoxy (mail):
US, of course. A survey like that is simply a good example of the rampart thoughtlessness and dis-edu-ma-cation of the masses.

After spending 12 years in the hands of the public teachers union, what would expect?
9.22.2008 12:38pm
Wallace:
I think a lot of the public may have confused "should be allowed to offend. . . " with "should offend."
9.22.2008 12:49pm
Philistine (mail):
I wonder how the percentages would change if the question specifically asked something along the lines of "people should be jailed or fined if they said something to offend..."

I suspect that some of the disagreement with the question is moral disapproval rather than seeking government action. But maybe not.

Also--what's the deal with 2001 &2002 for people agreeing with the Statement "the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees" (after quoting the text of it). (Question 2)

In 2000 it's 10% strongly agree--then in 2001 it's 29% and 2002 is 41% (19% in 2003, and back to 10% in 2008). Is that 9/11? If so, the questions about the specific components don't appear to have the same skew.
9.22.2008 12:54pm
ejo:
well, is the global trend toward more or less control over what the media is allowed to print? it would seem to me we should analyze our First Amendment concerns in that context.
9.22.2008 12:55pm
Grobstein (mail) (www):
I suspect that some of the disagreement with the question is moral disapproval rather than seeking government action.

What the responses show is that people don't like to make that distinction.
9.22.2008 12:58pm
expat lumberjack:
What the responses show is that people don't like to make that distinction.

The responses do not show anything because the question is improperly vague. The survey is more than worthless because it prompts ridiculous and groundless speculation.

Whoever the First Amendment Center hired to write and conduct this survey needs to retake survey methodology class.
9.22.2008 1:02pm
Oren:

I think a lot of the public may have confused "should be allowed to offend. . . " with "should offend."

To me, the distinction was whether they should be punished by the legal system (no) or general public moral opprobrium (absolutely).

We should not allow such behavior as a society by individually exercising our right to free association by shunning those (David Duke, Phelps clan) with ideas that we collectively find objectionable beyond the scope of normal disagreement.
9.22.2008 1:05pm
Jim Hu:
So, is there any data on whether these numbers are higher or lower than any other western democracy?
9.22.2008 1:09pm
Teague:
I wish you'd stop doing "clever" stuff like this - it's so trite and predictable what the answer is, every time. Just make your point without the cuteness.
9.22.2008 1:42pm
A.C.:
Everybody always wants to ban the stuff they disagree with and ensure full protection for the stuff they agree with. This is human nature. It's why you need a First Amendment to begin with. If people didn't tend to think the way this survey indicates, nobody would have felt the need to create such a thing.
9.22.2008 1:58pm
PersonFromPorlock:
So, the National Possum Council does a survey and discovers people need to eat mo' possum: this is a surprise?
9.22.2008 2:02pm
Gabriel McCall (mail):
If people didn't tend to think the way this survey indicates, nobody would have felt the need to create such a thing.

But if people weren't prepared to recognize and work against that tendency, the First Amendment would never have been passed, or would become (did become?) meaningless. A piece of paper can't protect a right which nobody cares to defend; the purpose of the Constitution is to remind and inspire people to govern themselves according to its principles, and to the extent that the people are not so reminded and inspired the Constitution is useless.
9.22.2008 2:05pm
Grover Gardner (mail):
I'm a little more disturbed that so many people think the Constitution establishes America as a Christian nation. Other than that, I don't find most of the answers surprising. And I think others are right in saying that the questions you refer to are not specific enough to warrant your concerns about the American public's understanding of free speech.

In my experience "free speech" is a highly variable thing. In NYC you can say pretty much any damn thing you please and hope you get noticed amidst the hurly-burly. In a small town you'd be wise to be circumspect if you don't wish to risk being ostracized--or worse.

I'd also love to see an ideological breakdown of the respondents.
9.22.2008 2:05pm
Aultimer:

A.C.:
Everybody always wants to ban the stuff they disagree with and ensure full protection for the stuff they agree with. This is human nature. It's why you need a First Amendment to begin with.


Not everybody - it's a predicate to holding libertarian beliefs that "bans" should be separated from personal disagreement with subjects. Obviously a smaller minority.
9.22.2008 2:06pm
Snaphappy Fishsuit Mokiligon:
Teague: This is sort of like a trivial pursuit question from one of the later editions, where the question is so obscure that nobody would ever know it, which means the answer is obviously 0, 1, or a very large number, whichever one is contrary to your gut instinct. These questions are also invariably multiple choice.
9.22.2008 2:08pm
A.C.:
Libertarians, First Amendment supporters, and just about everyone who argues these things in the abstract can put themselves outside a particular dispute and try to come up with general rules that govern all disagreements. Indeed, I think most people can do so when their emotions are not engaged.

My comment was more about people in the midst of a hot controversy, which is when most people feel at least a strong temptation to try to muzzle the other side. You put the safeguard in place when you are NOT feeling that particular temptation, knowing full well that you will end up feeling it eventually.
9.22.2008 2:25pm
tsotha:

To me, the distinction was whether they should be punished by the legal system (no) or general public moral opprobrium (absolutely).



Do you consider civil courts to be part of the legal system? You might not be prosecuted for saying something offensive, but you can certainly lose your business if you speak your mind at the wrong time.
9.22.2008 2:53pm
whit:

I'm a little more disturbed that so many people think the Constitution establishes America as a Christian nation.


except your statement is false, or at least not supported by the poll.

the question was did:
"The nation's founders intended the United States to be a Christian nation."

That is ENTIRELY different from saying the CONSTITUTION establishes america as a christian nation.

btw, this is a CONSTANT fallacy I see the left employ.

There is a huge difference between saying this is or isn't a christian nation AND

this is (or should be) a christian government.

But I constantly see those two confused.

The nations founders may have intended the US to be a christian nation. That does not mean they wrote a constitution that establishes that as a matter of law/constitutional govt.

here's an analogy. The nations founders may have also intended the US to be a moral nation (note that christianity =/= morality). It does not follow that the constitution establishes america as a moral nation.



hth
9.22.2008 3:02pm
RebelRenegade:
It's at least encouraging that support for a ban on flag burning is decreasing.
9.22.2008 3:09pm
Mrs. Jones:
Actually the poll asked exactly "The U.S. Constitution establishes a Christian nation." in the next question (Q13).

36% strongly agree, 19% mildly agree
9.22.2008 3:12pm
RebelRenegade:
whit:

Did you bother to read question 13?
9.22.2008 3:18pm
RebelRenegade:
VC should be afraid of the results of Q28. 29% of respondents don't believe they should get the same 1st Amendment protections as standard journalists and newspapers.
9.22.2008 3:20pm
RebelRenegade:
Q38 contains a double whammy.

54% of respondents seem to implicity agree with govt subsidized free internet (although that wasn't technically the question) AND allowing the govt to censor what it deemed inappropriate content.

We trying to turn into China here?
9.22.2008 3:24pm
trad and anon (mail):
Could we please have one of these where the answer isn't blindingly obvious?
9.22.2008 3:30pm
Adam J:
Whit- Before you quote a source, I would suggest reading it, rather then just "quoting" what you want the source to say.
9.22.2008 3:45pm
Pragmaticist:
The masses are asses.
9.22.2008 3:58pm
RebelRenegade:
Taking bets on whit coming back to face the music in this thread.

Yes is paying 500:1
9.22.2008 4:06pm
A.W. (mail):
Before everyone beats up on America, let's points out a few things.

First, this is one of the few free countries in the world that does NOT attempt to limit "hate speech." You are free to say "Hitler was right" all day long.

You cannot say that in virtually any european country. and if you wrote that in Canaduh, you would be hauled before a human rights tribunal.

The closest we come is the law of sexual and racial harrassment, which has frankly gone too far, but not half as far as most other nations have.

Second, this is a survey by a first amendment group that has a vested interest in promoting the idea that the first A, is in danger.

And the phraseology is written to blur the difference between governmental and private action. What do these people mean when they say such people should not be "allowed" to do that? That they should be in jail, or fined--a national "curse jar?" Or maybe they should be shouted down, or their bosses should fire them and so on.

Change it from "be allowed to" to "should the government stop a person from..." and who knows what the numbers might become.

Anyway, I judge the mood of the people largely by results, not some poll by a group with an axe to grind. According to polls, Kerry should have won virginia in 2004. So much for a mere "poll."
9.22.2008 4:06pm
RebelRenegade:
A.W. you seem pretty worked up about all this.
9.22.2008 4:21pm
whit:
That's my bad. I read question 12, NOT question 13.

oops.
9.22.2008 5:14pm
EIDE_Interface (mail):

Teague:
I wish you'd stop doing "clever" stuff like this - it's so trite and predictable what the answer is, every time. Just make your point without the cuteness.


Shorter teague:

I hate the 1st amendment and really hate those nasty right-wingers at Volokh pointing that fact out.
9.22.2008 5:30pm
Ohismith (mail):
It's OK to dis one's religion, they've chosen to follow that faith. It's not OK to dis one's race, they didn't choose it.
9.22.2008 6:32pm
Oren:

To me, the distinction was whether they should be punished by the legal system (no) or general public moral opprobrium (absolutely).

Do you consider civil courts to be part of the legal system? You might not be prosecuted for saying something offensive, but you can certainly lose your business if you speak your mind at the wrong time.
I do — the courts (of all stripes) should not be involved in adjudicating what opinions (as opposed to libelous statements of false facts, strictly construed) are beyond the acceptable norms of discourse.

Then again, I find it perfectly proper for you to lose your business because no one wants to buy from a racist/sexist/anti-semite/whatever-else-they-don't-like. Free association is a wonderful thing, both in positive and negative aspects.
9.22.2008 6:51pm
New Pseudonym:

The masses are asses.


Prag, IIRC the second line is, "but Nietzsche is peachy"

Like many (sorry, no citation available), I mentally took the poll while looking at the answers. Since none of the questions contained anything about "reasonable time, place or manner" restrictions, I kept responding DK. Without this addition, what would the Supremes say on the poll?

GIGO, but subtle GIGO.
9.22.2008 7:30pm
tsotha:

Then again, I find it perfectly proper for you to lose your business because no one wants to buy from a racist/sexist/anti-semite/whatever-else-they-don't-like. Free association is a wonderful thing, both in positive and negative aspects.



Oh, I quite agree. But that's not the point I was trying to make. A business owner with unpopular opinions can find himself sued or regulated ("nice liquor license you got there...") out of business very quickly . "I don't like old people/black people/gays/Wicccans/etc" could very quickly turn into a multi-million-dollar judgment. Sadly, I think most people are quite all right with that.

How is it constitutional to throw a student out of a state college for "speech code" violations?
9.22.2008 8:16pm
Brian G (mail) (www):

54% disagree with the proposition that "People should be allowed to say things in public that might be offensive to racial groups"?


That number drops to 12% if the target is Clarence Thomas.
9.22.2008 9:20pm