An overwhelming majority of Americans believe that “it would be hard to ban hate speech because people can’t agree what speech is hateful,” including 78 percent of Democrats, 77 percent of Latinos, and 59 percent of African Americans. And the notion that “freedom of speech ensures the truth will ultimately win out” was shared by 70 percent of Latinos, 68 percent of African Americans, and 63 percent of Democrats.
Yet a majority of Americans and a supermajority of African Americans believe that “society can prohibit hate speech and still protect free speech.” (To complicate matters, a quarter of Americans, 38 percent of African Americans, and 45 percent of Latinos erroneously believe it is already illegal to make a racist statement in public.)
Who should get protection against hate speech? Forty-six percent would support a law making it illegal to say offensive things about African Americans; there is less support for banning insults against other groups (41 percent for Jews, 40 percent for immigrants and military-service members, 39 percent for Hispanics, 37 percent for Muslims, 36 percent for gays, lesbians, and transgender people, 35 percent for Christians).
Forty-seven percent of Latinos, 41 percent of African Americans, and 26 percent of whites would favor a law making it illegal to say offensive things about white people in public.
Should there be a law making it illegal to say offensive or disrespectful things in public about the police? Fifty-one percent of Latinos say yes. So do 40 percent of African Americans, 38 percent of Democrats, and 36 percent of both independents and Republicans.
Fifty-one percent of Democrats would favor a law “requiring people to refer to a transgender person by their preferred gender pronouns and not according to their biological sex.” Majorities of African Americans, Latinos, whites, and Republicans disagreed.
Republicans were most intolerant of speech and most likely to favor authoritarian laws to punish it on the subject of burning or desecrating the American flag: Seventy-two percent of Republicans believe that should be illegal (along with 46 percent of Democrats). Most shocking to me, 53 percent of Republicans and 49 percent of Latinos favor “stripping a person of their U.S. citizenship if they burn the American flag.” To protect the flag at the expense of the U.S. Constitution rather misses the point.
What Ought to Get People Fired?
On the whole, Americans were averse to firing people from their jobs for holding an offensive belief. Should a business executive be fired if he believes African Americans are genetically inferior? Fifty-three percent of Americans, and 51 percent of African Americans, said no. And that was the belief most likely to be seen as termination-worthy (except among Republicans: More Republicans were inclined to fire an NFL player who refused to stand for the national anthem than a racist executive).