Not by many Americans it seems. Not today. The truth, despite what some will tell you, has never been in vogue. There’s a war over speech.
The free speech wars are getting worse, but it seems that none of the warring factions quite grasp the character of the dispute — or precisely what’s at stake.
At the figurative center of the clash is the norm of near-absolute freedom of speech and expression, which its defenders like to treat as the American default. A number of ideological challenges have arisen in recent years to overturn this norm.
On many college campuses, groups of left-leaning students insist that free speech should be conditional on speakers adhering to explicit standards of diversity and avoiding the infliction of emotional harm on the members of marginalized groups through the spreading of “hate.”
The war may be hottest in America’s colleges.
Richard Walker, a University of Central Florida sophomore and member of Knights for Socialism, believes his school should be limiting the voices of those who spew hateful rhetoric on campus.
“The university’s first responsibility is ensuring the safety and well-being of their students,” said Walker, 19. “It might be just words now, but if you let that sort of thing come into the public discourse and become widely accepted, it doesn’t stay words.”
In America’s politically polarized environment, students such as Walker increasingly think colleges should ban speech that may be racist or defamatory, a trend that worries advocates of the First Amendment.
More than 40 percent of students believe the First Amendment does not protect hate speech, according to a Brookings Institute poll taken of 1,500 students nationwide last year. Almost 20 percent believe using violence is an acceptable means to stop such speech, the poll found. In all, 53 percent of students — 61 percent Democrat and 47 percent Republican — believe colleges and universities should prohibit offensive speech, according to the survey.
Time was when everyone assumed the colleges’ first role was to promote knowledge and learning. Learning, to a large degree, requires communication of ideas, speech – even that which may be unpopular or uncomfortable.
That 20% find violence an acceptable alternative to debate or turning away is astounding. The legal concept of “fighting words,” speech unprotected because it could give rise to imminent physical danger, is predicated on what was known as the “reasonable man” doctrine.
We seem to have a shortage of reason today. And that should be the idea that offends.