Fear of speech is replacing freedom of speech

Jul 27, 2020 by

For generations, Americans were raised to see robust debate as legitimate, desirable, and essential to democratic health. No longer.

Norman Rockwell's "Freedom of Speech," from 1943.
Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom of Speech,” from 1943.Curtis Publishing, Indianapolis, and Norman Rockwell Museum Collection

“Freedom of Speech,” the famous Norman Rockwell painting that depicts a young man addressing a local gathering, was inspired by a real event. One evening in 1942, Rockwell attended the town meeting in Arlington, Vt., where he lived for many years. On the agenda was the construction of a new school. It was a popular proposal, supported by everyone in attendance — except for one resident, who got up to express his dissenting view. He was evidently a blue-collar worker, whose battered jacket and stained fingernails set him apart from the other men in the audience, all dressed in white shirts and ties. In Rockwell’s scene, the man speaks his mind, unafraid to express a minority opinion and not intimidated by the status of those he’s challenging. He has no reason not to speak plainly: His words are being attended to with respectful attention. His neighbors may disagree with him, but they’re willing to hear what he has to say.

What brings Rockwell’s painting to mind is a new national poll by the Cato Institute. The survey found that self-censorship has become extremely widespread in American society, with 62 percent of adults saying that, given the current political climate, they are afraid to honestly express their views.

“These fears cross partisan lines,” writes Emily Ekins, Cato’s director of polling. “Majorities of Democrats (52 percent), independents (59 percent), and Republicans (77 percent) all agree they have political opinions they are afraid to share.” The survey’s 2,000 respondents sorted themselves ideologically as “very liberal,” “liberal,” “moderate,” “conservative,” or “very conservative.” In every category except “very liberal,” a majority of respondents feel pressured to keep their views to themselves. Roughly one-third of American adults — 32 percent — fear they could be fired or otherwise penalized at work if their political beliefs became known.

continue: Fear of speech is replacing freedom of speech – The Boston Globe

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