Most Americans think cancel culture ‘out of control,' protecting free speech important: poll

Unsplash/Markus Winkler
Unsplash/Markus Winkler

Over two-thirds of adults in the United States believe “cancel culture” has “gotten out of control,” and most believe protecting free speech is more important than protecting people from speech that is offensive, according to findings from a recent survey by Rasmussen Reports.

Rasmussen and The National Pulse conducted a survey of 1,000 U.S. adults on Oct. 27-28, with a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points, asking their opinion on cancel culture.

According to a report released Wednesday, 72% of respondents said they believed that cancel culture had “gotten out of control,” while 15% disagreed and 12% said they were unsure.

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Rasmussen and National Pulse also found that 75% of respondents believed that “protecting free speech is more important than protecting people from speech that is offensive,” while 16% disagreed.

Although majorities of both Democrats and Republicans said cancel culture was out of control, Democrats were more likely than Republicans to believe that protecting people from offensive speech was more important than protecting free speech.

Specifically, the researchers found that 27% of Democrats said protecting people from offensive speech was more important than protecting free speech, versus 9% of Republicans and 11% of politically unaffiliated respondents.

According to Merriam-Webster, “cancel culture” is aimed at boycotting or demanding the censorship of another person, typically a public figure, for past mistakes or controversial views.

The dictionary says the term derives from the #MeToo movement and African-American Twitter users, who sought to cut support to celebrities who have committed wrongs in the past.

“There is a performative aspect to canceling, one that (it could be argued) paradoxically amplifies that which it seeks to squelch, if only for the moment,” explained the dictionary website.

“To cancel someone publicly often requires broadcasting that act, which then makes the target of one’s canceling a subject of attention. The objective behind canceling is often to deny that attention, so that the person loses cultural cachet.”

Prominent targets of cancel culture have included best-selling author J.K. Rowling over her criticism of transgender ideology, actress and MMA fighter Gina Carano over a social media post comparing conservatives in Hollywood to Jews in Nazi Germany and comedian Kevin Hart over anti-gay remarks he made several years ago.

In August 2020, a group of scholars and faith leaders signed a public statement in opposition to “social media mobs,” “cancel culture” and “campus speech policing.”

“Truly open discourse — the debates, exchange of ideas, and arguments on which the health and flourishing of a democratic republic crucially depend — is increasingly rare,” read the document, known as the Philadelphia Statement.

“Our liberty and our happiness depend upon the maintenance of a public culture in which freedom and civility coexist — where people can disagree robustly, even fiercely, yet treat each other as human beings — and, indeed, as fellow citizens — not mortal enemies.” 

In a July sermon, David Jeremiah, the pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon., Calif., stressed that cancel culture conflicts with Jesus' commands to love God and love others.

"Cancel culture is laser-focused on judgment and accusation and punishment," Jeremiah said. "And the goal of those who cancel others is to broadcast their sins from pillar to post, and never allow them to be removed or forgotten. Christ's goal, on the other hand, is love, mercy and grace."

Jesus "spent a lot of time with people in His day who had been canceled, so to speak," Jeremiah said, specifically citing the woman at the well and lepers.

"It would be nice to think that cancel culture is a temporary phase that our world is going through," Jeremiah said. "But society is becoming more intolerant and polarized by the day. And I'm not sure we'll see a reversal of all these trends. The more insidious elements of cancel culture are a malignant form of the spitefulness and self-importance common to human nature."

Instead of capitulating to cancel culture, the pastor encouraged Christians to embrace the four "un-cancellable concepts" of wisdom, courage, forgiveness and love.

"It's not easy to live as members of God's Kingdom in a world that is increasingly hostile to his values," Jeremiah said. "This is the shared experience of every generation of Christians since the first generation. So we've had 2,000 years to prepare for these days. One thing we know: The rewards of following Jesus Christ are always worth it."

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