It has recently become fashionable to advocate for the repeal or restriction of various protections in the First Amendment. The right to free speech, of course, protects even advocacy against the First Amendment. This era is not the first time that our most basic freedoms have come under assault. But in our view, 2021 has already seen dangerous and potentially successful assaults on free speech and other central pillars of American liberty embodied in the First Amendment.
Protect The 1st is hardly alone in this view — a host of organizations across the political spectrum do important work every day to protect the First Amendment. So, why does Protect The 1st feel a need to get involved now? We have the legal experience and the knowledge of Congress and the courts to make a difference. And we are concerned to see the First Amendment under assault from all sides – so we believe it must be protected from all sides.
Our mission compels us to leverage the personal backgrounds and experiences of our people as effectively as possible. It also means defending all aspects of the First Amendment from attack. We see the five freedoms in the First Amendment – of speech, press, worship, assembly and petition – as a single constellation of liberty, not as individual points to be defended separately.
We believe this approach is necessary because of the broad attacks being leveled against the First Amendment across the country, from the left and from the right, from big corporations and from populist movements. We believe those who cherish First Amendment rights must act now—especially in light of changing views on the acceptability of certain types of speech, as well as the government’s role in policing speech.
A survey of recent polls of Americans shows alarming trends. More than 60 percent of Americans today favor legally restricting speech in some way. A slim 51 percent majority favors rewriting the First Amendment to better “reflect the cultural norms of today.”[i] By a sizable majority, most Millennials have expressed a desire to prosecute “hate speech,” even advocating jail time for violators. This desire to police speech extends to the media, with nearly 60 percent of Americans believing government should be able to restrict media outlets deemed to be biased, untruthful or inflammatory.[ii]
It is clear that, for many younger Americans, the First Amendment represents an archaic protection for views that have fallen out of favor rather than the absolute protection for all Americans that it was designed to be. Yet there is still hope for those who value the five freedoms the amendment grants, and Protect The 1st is committed to standing with those who recognize the timeless value of the First Amendment and helping to educate and convince the rest of its value.
There still exists, for example, a strong desire to protect the religious freedoms of all Americans. Seventy-eight percent of Americans surveyed by The Becket Fund rated a candidate’s stance on religious freedom as important to them. Yet only 45 percent of voters surveyed stated that their own religious beliefs played a significant role in how they voted.[iii] Likewise, support for the freedoms of religious minorities has grown by 25 percent in the past two years. Today, 82 percent of Americans agree that religious freedoms extend to all religions.[iv]
While some aspects of our First Amendment rights have widespread support, it is clear that public willingness to defend those rights is inconsistent and sometimes self-contradictory. Those who support laws outlawing hate speech might be equally fervent in their support of religious minorities to worship freely; or those who want large social media to disenfranchise ever larger numbers of Americans might be fervent in their willingness to allow journalists to protect their sources. Some of the 81 percent of college students who favor being exposed to ideas that some may find offensive[v] probably also (and inconsistently) support restrictions on academic freedom.
Protect The 1st stands against these cafeteria views of the First Amendment. That amendment grants Americans five basic freedoms, and over the centuries they have become inextricable from one another. Freedom of speech means little without the ability to publish that speech. Freedom of religion means little if you are not free to assemble and worship together, or to be free from forced violations of your closely held religious doctrine.
This is why Protect The 1st is not just a free speech or media or religious freedom organization. An assault on one part of the First Amendment is an assault on the entire amendment and the Constitution itself. Protect The 1st is dedicated to protecting in its entirety this constellation of American liberty.
Campaign for Free Speech Survey Microsoft Word - Free Speech Survey -- Standard Banners (1).doc (campaignforfreespeech.org)
[iii] Becket Fund 2020 Findings 2020 Findings - Becket (becketlaw.org)
[iv] Freedom Forum Institute Survey State of the First Amendment Survey | Freedom Forum Institute
[v]Knight Foundation and Gallup Report First-Amendment-on-Campus-2020.pdf (knightfoundation.org)