Americans Hate America for Its Freedom

Eugene Volokh points to a First Amendment Center survey (PDF) showing that 42 percent of Americans disagree with the proposition People should be allowed to say things in public that might be offensive to RELIGIOUS groups and 54% disagree that People should be allowed to say things in public that might be offensive to RACIAL groups.  What’s more, he notes, these numbers are actually down from when the Center first started taking this annual survey in 1997.

Now, as some early commenters on his post note, the questions may have confused people.  Presumably, had the question been phrased as “people should be jailed or fined if they said something to offend,” the responses would have been radically different.  “Allowed” could be taken to mean “without social scorn,” or “by employers” or whathaveyou.

It’s quite possible, though, that we’ve simply created a culture that values sparing hurt feelings over individual freedom of expression.

FILED UNDER: Public Opinion Polls, Race and Politics, Religion, US Constitution, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. The pernicious influence of Rousseau rears its ugly head yet again.

  2. sam says:

    I think the head of Clouseau is more apt.

  3. Bootlegger says:

    Your interpretation is correct. People are defining “should” in normative, not legalistic, terms. Most people probably believe it is rude to insult someone in public and thus think its wrong to do so. But I guarantee you support would drop precipitously if the question were asked in legalistic terms.

  4. Steve Verdon says:

    Big shock. Here is how Sartwell put it,

    We want the government to guarantee our health, deflect hurricanes, educate our children and license us to drive; we want to be told what to eat, what to smoke and whom to marry. We are justly proud of the fact that no enduring society has ever incarcerated more of its people. Noting that the policeman has a pistol, a club, a stun gun, a can of pepper spray and a database that includes us, we feel happy and secure.

    Our submission is absolute: We want to be operated like puppets and provided for like pets.

    The terrorists hate our freedom. But we should be comfortable with that. We hate our freedom, too.

    So it is all part of the same mentality.

    We are a nation of wimps, crybabies and children. We can’t conceive of the notion of doing things for ourselves. We have to have Uncle Sam holding our hand and making sure everything is safe.

  5. just me says:

    I tend to agree that this poll would likely look very different if the question included jailing or other government sanction.

    I actually think the poll might be interesting if it asked both legal oriented opinions on this issue and social norms, because I do think the gap would be interesting to compare.

    But then I think a lot of polls are flawed when it comes to questions. I often get frustrated with political oriented online polls (knowing the non online ones probably aren’t any better in question structure) because of the questions. For instance questions about immigration rarely cover the opinion between open borders and build a fence and don’t let anyone in. And even a question about stem cell research often blows it, because it misses the fact that there are some people in favor of private funding for the research-ie they don’t believe in banning it or prohibiting it, they just don’t favor federal funding for it, but 9 times out of 10 the question asks “Do you support stem cell reasearch?” or something along those lines.

  6. Dave Schuler says:

    There is nothing opposed to freedom in deriding someone with stupid ideas. It might be rude but it’s not illiberal.

    The First Amendment begins “Congress shall make no law” not “Nobody should criticize” or “Everybody should feel good”.

  7. Steve Verdon says:

    The First Amendment begins “Congress shall make no law” not “Nobody should criticize” or “Everybody should feel good”.

    Well there is no law yet, and given how places like D.C. got away for decades by ignoring the Constitution….

  8. tom p says:

    Well, so far… I have yet to read that anyone has the right to not be offended…

  9. rpk says:

    In view of the nature of Islam and is efforts to impose Sharia law in the US, this is not a good sign for the health of this country.