US needs to protect First Amendment freedoms

“Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Benjamin Franklin, a member of the Pennsylvania Providential Assembly, penned this quote in a letter to Pennsylvania governor Robert Hunter Morris in 1755.

The phrase essentially means no individual should have to fear sacrificing their basic freedoms in order to feel safe and secure.

Many of the fundamental liberties Franklin mentioned in his letter are in America’s Bill of Rights.

The most basic, but most important, of these rights are in the First Amendment. This includes freedom of speech.

As Americans, we take advantage of these freedoms every day without much thought. We skewer our sports team’s coaches and players every weekend. We ruthlessly criticize elected officials on every action they take. We say a lot of things, some nice and some pretty mean, but we know it is within our rights to do so.

However, as much as we love our own personal right to free speech, we hate everyone else’s.

Twenty-eight percent of Americans believe the U.S. government should censor offensive comments about minorities, according to the Pew Research Center. Forty percent of Millennials, people ages 18 to 34, believe public statements offensive to minorities should be prevented.

While I do not condone racism or derogatory comments toward any group of individuals, the numbers in this study are alarming to me. It is not that I think hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan or political nightmares like Donald Trump have anything good to say, but because this type of thinking is dangerous.

What if tomorrow the U.S. government made offensive statements toward minorities illegal? What if the government had the power to say, “You can’t say that,” and fined or incarcerated individuals for their words? Maybe it is restricted to just minorities at first, but at what point does it stop? After the government crosses the line for one group, where does it end?

If we started down that road, would it eventually lead to a place where nobody could say anything that offended anybody, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation? I think it would, and it is a scary thought.

A similar issue occurred at the University of Missouri. Students who were offended by racist comments toward their student body president have petitioned for “safe zones” where no one can use media or offensive dialogue. Students have also demanded “trigger warnings,” where individuals must warn someone if what they say may be offensive.

It has even reached a point where students are purposefully segregating themselves by forming black and white unions at the university, and the idea is spreading to other campuses across the country.

Are we seriously at this point now where we want to be segregated?

This is not just an issue concerning one race either. Sixty-three percent of Americans believe blacks are the most discriminated upon, but 43 percent of Americans believe discrimination against whites is as big a problem as it is against minorities, according to a study by the Public Religion Research Institute.

Racism and discrimination are both evil and ignorant, but are we willing to destroy 50 years’ worth of progress and the First Amendment just because we are afraid of someone offending us?

The politically correct culture has put such a beat-down on free speech that people are scared or intimidated to voice an opinion, no matter what it may be.

If we continue down this road, I fear we will have neither freedom nor security, just as Franklin warned.