“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

This famous quote was written by Evelyn Beatrice Hall in her once famous book “The Friends of Voltaire.” This saying still holds truth today — or does it?

A poll last year by the Pew Research Center found that roughly 40 percent of millennials thought it was all right to limit free speech that was offensive in some way. This number is staggering, compared with 27 percent of people aged 25 to 50 who thought limiting offensive speech was acceptable.

In fact, on average, the older a person is, the less likely they will believe that limiting offensive opinions is acceptable. A meager 12 percent of people over 80 said they thought censoring offensive speech was all right.

I find this concerning in a number of ways.

As Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once said: “If you have no doubt of your premises or your power, and want a certain result with all your heart, you naturally express your wishes in law, and sweep away all opposition.”

Silencing opinions that do not fall in line with the cultural norms of today is a new and dangerous trend. The censorship of ideas already has been happening on college campuses across the U.S. The now-infamous riots on DePaul’s and UCLA’s campuses when conservative speaker Milo Yiannopoulos arrived to debate issues of feminism are just two small events in a long list of incidents when uncommon opinions have been shut out or censored.

When did this become OK? College is a place to challenge your ideas and beliefs, not to be coddled and given “safe spaces.” While colleges always have leaned to the left on political and social issues, we have never seen such willful denial of a right that has been a staple in our country since the day it was created.

Many of the advances in women’s rights, LGBT rights and minority rights have come about because of an open platform where you did not need to be afraid that you would be censored.

Another unsettling recent development was that Facebook and Twitter have agreed with the European Union (E.U.) to censor hate speech on their websites. Other companies such as YouTube and Microsoft also have agreed to the E.U.’s conditions.

What defines hate speech? A post that one person finds is not offensive to them, another person will object to. How do we decide what is truly offensive to everyone? I do not have a perfect answer for this. If someone did, we would not have this issue.

If we had enacted such censorship 100 years ago, civil rights would be far behind where they are today. Advocating equal rights for women and gay marriage were at one time very unpopular opinions. Without the right of free speech, the environment we live in today would not be the same.

The rejection of free speech disenfranchises us of one of the core principles of modern democracy. An open exchange of ideas, while capitalist in nature, has helped create equal rights for minorities, as well as weeding out once-popular opinions that simply were incorrect or biased. While hate speech sucks for anyone who encounters it directed toward them, this may be the price one pays to be able to speak your own mind freely.

 

Case Pollock, of Burnsville, is a high school student.