When Should We Punch Nazis?

If you only read the headlines, you could be forgiven for thinking that large majorities of Americans oppose free speech. With Trump tweeting against NFL protests and college students blocking offensively conservative speakers, we might think most Americans agreed that free speech was a dangerous thing. According to new survey data, though, that’s not the case. In The Atlantic recently, Conor Friedersdorf reviewed the survey findings and found some surprising results. For one thing, most Americans want to let even the most offensive speakers have their say.


Punch him? Or protect him?

Should an executive be fired for harboring racist ideas? A majority (53%) said no. Even a slim majority (51%) of African Americans said no.

Should Nazis be violently blocked from expressing their hateful views? Large majorities of minorities said no. Eighty percent of Latinos and almost three-quarters of African Americans wanted to let Nazis speak their piece.

What about on campus? It seems that large majorities of respondents agree that some forms of speech deserve to be blocked. If someone calls for violence, for example, 81% of respondents think their speech should not be protected. Saying the Holocaust never happened? 57% of people think such ideas should be blocked. “Outing” illegal immigrants on campus? 65% said no.

If someone pulls a James Damore, though, 60% of people think his speech should be protected. And small minorities even want to protect other sorts of offensive speech, including accusations that all Christians are “brainwashed” (51%) or even that some racial minorities have lower IQs (52%).

It seems as if there is a lot more agreement about free speech than one might think. Americans in general often don’t know the rules—for example, significant numbers of respondents thought it was already illegal to make racist comments. Overall, however, Americans seem to agree that most speech should be protected, even offensive and possible dangerous speech. If it becomes TOO dangerous, however, we agree it must be stopped. We just don’t agree on where or how to draw that line.

Battle Map!

Where have Americans fought over public schooling?

The libertarian Cato Institute has put together a clickable Battle Map to help readers locate educational controversies.  Readers can search by state, by year, or by the type of conflict.  The Cato folks broke down school battles into such categories as curriculum, freedom of expression, gender equity, human origins, moral values, racial/ethnic diversity, reading material, religion, and sexual diversity.

Of course, the folks at Cato aren’t just providing a nerdy public service for those of us interested in studying cultural controversies.  The point of this exercise, from Cato’s perspective, is to prove that public education “divides [people], forcing them into conflict over whose values and histories will be taught, and whose basic rights will be upheld . . . or trampled.”

To this outsider, Cato’s argument seems a little strained.  After all, just because many family dinners turn into shouting matches, does that prove that dinner is a bad thing?