Freedom of speech is considered one of the most important democratic values. What it actually means to people, however, varies considerably around the world.

In the US, for example, there are no laws to restrict people from making racist, misogynist or homophobic comments — the right to say such things is protected under the First Amendment of the American Constitution. In Europe, however, it is illegal to make such comments. Holocaust denial or hate speech can land you in court.

In a recent poll, nearly half of Europeans agreed their government should be able to prevent people from saying things that are offensive to minorities. The sentiment was strongest in Germany, where 70% of those surveyed agreed. Across the six EU nations surveyed, a median of 49% agreed with this, compared with 28% of Americans.

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Sentiment in the United States is changing, however. While only 12% of Silents (people aged 70-87) agreed the government should censor offensive speech, 40% of Millennials (18-34) were in favour.

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There is no clear trend in the EU when it comes to generational differences. Those aged 18 to 34 in Germany and Spain are more likely to say people should be able to say things offensive to minorities than those over 35. In the UK, the younger generation is less open to this form of freedom of speech. Meanwhile, France, Italy and Poland, show no significant differences across the age groups.

Have you read?
Which freedoms are most important to you?
What does free speech mean in the age of the internet?
Why we must stand up for free speech

Author: Donald Armbrecht is a freelance writer and social media producer.

Image: A journalists requests to ask question. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach