The First Amendment provides us the ability to openly express our thoughts and opinions without fear of retribution or suppression from the government, and to many, this is considered a good thing. Unfortunately, a Pew Research Center poll showed that 40% of millennials (ages 18-34) favor government suppression of speech if said speech is offensive to minority groups.  While 40% obviously doesn’t represent a majority, it is an alarmingly high number given we are talking about removing the right to say certain things.  By comparison, Gen X (35-50) and Baby Boomers (51-69) had only 27% and 24% of respondents favor government regulation of speech.   In other demographic comparisons, more women than men, Democrats than Republicans, and non-college degree than college degree holders favored government regulation of speech.  

While I don’t condone purposefully saying things with the intention of offending people, free speech does inherently come with the possibility that people will get offended by the speech of others, because as the name implies, speech is free and therefore anything can be said.  And while this poll was specific to offensive speech aimed at minority groups, how long would it take for politicians to alter a free speech law to include any offensive speech, which could easily include political dissent?  Unfortunately, offensive speech is in the eye of the beholder, and as someone who is notoriously difficult to offend, it would likely require a far more objectionable statement to offend me than someone else.  So, who’s gauge should we go by?  The answer – you shouldn’t prioritize one over the other.  Offensive speech is too ambiguous and circumstantial to be regulated by the government, and the very nature of what is deemed offensive is based on each person’s specific circumstances and experiences.  In the end, speech should be free and unregulated by the government as the First Amendment has always intended.

Being offended by certain things other people say is the cost of having free speech.  The alternative is giving the government unilateral authority to outlaw any phrases they deem offensive, and if history has taught us anything, giving that sort of authority to government entities doesn’t end well for citizens.

As the old saying goes, sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

(Editor’s Note: This site does not support offensive speech or statements meant to offend anyone.)

{Via Pew Research Center}

Title Image “Millennials” by Elizabeth Hahn is licensed under CC BY 2.0