With increasing attacks on first amendment rights and religious liberty forming on college campuses across the nation, there is a growing misconception among many Millennials on the concept of religious liberty and why it is so crucial to protect. Due to misinterpretations of how religious liberty was defined during America’s founding and the recent consecration of these freedoms by the Supreme Court, religious liberty is in jeopardy.
Religious liberty is nothing new, especially in America. Religious liberty is a value that has been around since the founding of the United States. An example of religious liberty’s American bedrock is explained by Dr. Mark David Hall in special report, “Did America Have a Christian Founding?” for the Heritage Foundation. Dr. Hall explains how James Madison led the charge during the 1776 drafting of Virginia’s Declaration of Rights to enshrine religious liberty as a resolute right in the young democratic republic.
Madison disagreed with the use of the word “toleration” in Virginia’s Declaration of Rights as it inferred religious liberty was a privilege granted by individual states and could be rescinded at any time. The Virginia Convention concurred and amended the article so that the wording expressed the freedom to exercise religion as a guaranteed right, not a privilege. It now appears that many in the Millennial generation are losing sight of what our Founders had in mind and are instead working to silence any idea or value that may even slightly contradict or challenge their own.
According to data collected from the Pew Research Center, 40 percent of Millennials believe that the government should be able to prevent people from saying statements that are offensive to minority groups. This percentage is increasingly alarming when compared to earlier generations, such as Gen X, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation, of which 27 percent, 24 percent, and 12 percent agreed with the above statement respectively.
Millennials’ views on censorship pose a serious threat to religious liberty and freedom of speech across the nation. One of the largest proponents of such thought appears to be the growing trend of safe spaces on college campuses. Safe space is defined by Merriam-Webster as:
“a place (as on a college campus) intended to be free of bias, conflict, criticism, or potentially threatening actions, ideas, or conversations”
According to another poll conducted by LendEDU, 36 percent of college students responded that safe spaces are absolutely necessary for students. This percentage is similar to the amount who believe the government should be able to punish offensive statements to minority groups. However, the poll on safe spaces on campus also shows that 25 percent of students are indifferent to safe spaces, meaning that they may be easily swayed to either side of the argument as they are not specifically against safe spaces.
Millennials’ views on issues such as religious liberty and freedom of speech is such a pressing concern since the current generation of college students and graduates are the twenty-first century’s intellectual elites. This new class of intellectual elites are those who will shape public policy and American values for decades to come. The future of American social and political values is at stake, and it is time to reclaim the hard truth of freedom of speech and religious liberty.
The U.S. Supreme Court has helped in this regard in the recent months. In June, the Supreme court unanimously reaffirmed that there is no “hate speech” exception to the first amendment. In their decision, the Supreme Court detailed how allegedly hateful or offensive speech would go directly against the Constitution. The two concurring opinions by Justices Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy are below:
“The idea that the government may restrict] speech expressing ideas that offend … strikes at the heart of the First Amendment. Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express ‘the thought that we hate.”
“A law found to discriminate based on viewpoint is an ‘egregious form of content discrimination,’ which is ‘presumptively unconstitutional.’ … A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all. The First Amendment does not entrust that power to the government’s benevolence. Instead, our reliance must be on the substantial safeguards of free and open discussion in a democratic society.”
The Supreme Court reaffirmed that all speech is protected from being banned or from any restrictions under the law regardless of how “offensive” it might be. It is essential that Millennials uphold and learn to protect the values of religious liberty and the freedom of speech, just as our Founders intended at the birth of this nation and as upheld by the country’s highest court. It is also time to reclaim college campuses from those who wish to shut down free speech and religious liberty and ensure that the new generation of intellectual elites protect the natural rights and freedom of speech that each individual is granted in all 50 states.