Revising the Bill of Rights

Revising the Bill of Rights October 28, 2019

A majority of Americans, 51%, want to revise the First Amendment to “reflect the cultural norms of today.”  Specifically, they want the Freedom of Speech guarantee to be rewritten so as to not allow “hate speech.”  Nearly 60% of Millennials supported such a revision.

This was the finding of a poll conducted by the Campaign for Free Speech.  (Here are the questions and the full results.)

Nearly half, 48%, of respondents believed that “hate speech” should be illegal, with half of those saying that it should be punished by imprisonment, with the rest saying it should be punished by fines.

The study did not define “hate speech,” but the term is regularly used today to shut down debate on a whole range of issues.  If you call for enforcing the country’s immigration laws, you could be accused of hate speech.  Explain why you don’t believe in same-sex marriage.  Hate speech.  Complain about males who identify as females taking the prizes in women’s sports.  Hate speech.

The study also asked about Freedom of the Press, though without asking whether the Constitution should be amended accordingly.  The question asked respondents to agree or disagree with this statement:  “The government should be able to take action against newspapers and TV stations that publish content that is biased, inflammatory, or false.” Nearly 60% agreed, with 46% supporting jail time for violators.

Are Americans similarly disenchanted with the rest of the Bill of Rights?  Some anti-gun activists, encouraged by the late former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, are calling for repeal of the Second Amendment.  According to a 2018 poll, 21% of Americans want the Constitutional right to keep and bear arms to be repealed.  But 46% would like to see the Second Amendment revised so as to allow stricter regulation of firearms.

The Freedom of Religion seems to be more popular, according to 2017 data, with 89% of Americans calling it an important liberty that deserves to be protected.  Moreover 65% of those polled said that religious liberty should be respected even when it conflicts with other laws.  That would presumably include anti-discrimination laws, though a 2019 study found that 67% of Americans oppose religious exemptions in cases of LGBT discrimination.

It is extraordinarily difficult to amend the Constitution, so it’s unlikely that the Bill of Rights is in any immediate danger of being rewritten.  But the poll numbers raise a bigger issue.  The authors of the Constitution were all about “We the People” and the “consent of the governed.”  It probably never occurred to the Founders that the American people would not want liberties and rights.

It might be human nature to sometimes oppose freedom and rights for other people.  But it seems unusual to oppose freedom and rights for oneself.

Yet, while the people of Hong Kong are demonstrating for freedoms that many Americans would just as soon do without, the populace of mainline China seems to be resolutely against them.  Perhaps that is just the impulse for survival under totalitarianism, but it may be that most Chinese citizens are content–indeed, happy with–their all-powerful government, which is giving them social cohesion, security, and economic prosperity.

Democracies are rare throughout history, and they often end when the majority votes in a dictator who then takes away, along with their other rights and liberties, their vote.  But the public loves him for it.

Francis Schaeffer predicted that the time was coming when Americans would be willing to sacrifice their liberties for personal peace and prosperity.  That time might be closer than we think.


Photo via Pxhere, CC0, Public Domain

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