While the courts have generally protected our individual freedoms, the American people tend to support the restriction of these rights in practice. What reasons do you believe account for this fundamental difference of view?
It is an interesting question, but one that has become more interesting to me as I've watched the changes in younger people and how much more accepting they are of restrictions on their freedom and invasions of their privacy.
I don't have the definitive answer, but I agree with much of what previous posters have pointed out.
Another reason might be that people want to protect what they have, regardless of whether it infringes on the rights of others. People don't support property tax reform if it means taking tax revenues from their wealthy suburbs and using that money to fund inner-city schools. Why should they pay for other children to get the same education their children get.
In theory, they agree they ought to, but in practice, they really want to protect what they feel like they've "earned."
What accounts for this difference of view is human nature and human tendencies in a democracy. Humans in general, and Americans in particular, tend to form political opinions based on limited facts and an abundance of emotion. That is, the knee jerk opinions of many people in this country often begin to form around what feels good to them as opposed to what is practical and rational.
So if I propose limiting the free speech rights of illegal immigrants or homosexuals, for example, then many Americans (who don't like those groups of people) can say "Sure!!" because it doesn't affect their own rights and takes away from someone they don't like.
Once people learn that it may affect their own personal freedom as well, their tune tends to change rapidly.
The previous thoughts are quite strong. Perhaps a reason why individuals seem to support the restriction of individual freedoms is because of the belief that some "are not worthy" of such entitlements. This arises from the point of view that in any type of social or political arrangement, if an individual transgresses, they should not be entitled to rights that they have forgone through their behavior. Where this might pose some problems is that it makes the presumption that the execution of justice is a perfect process. Sometimes, the authorities make mistakes because... well, they are human. In this light, if mistakes are made, the extension of rights become that self- corrective measure that ensures all individuals have an expectation of procedural due process and institutional fairness. At the same time, politicians have done a very good job of framing these paradigms so that individuals come to understand the expansion of rights and individual liberties as being equivalent to being "soft on crime" and that those who seek to establish truth and justice must do so at the cost of individual entitlements. This is flawed because it makes the assumption that security and adherence to rights are mutually exclusive. However, there have been moments when Americans have voiced support for the expansion of individual rights against the encroaching government. The backlash against McCarthy and his Communist witchhunt as well as the gradual outcry against portions of the Patriot Act might prove that there have been moments in American History when the body politic has spoken out in favor of the reestablishment of individual liberties and rights.
So you are asking why the courts protect rights while individuals want to restrict them -- is that the difference you are asking about?
If so, the people tend to support the restriction of rights because it is generally unpopular groups that have to ask to have their rights protected. Majorities do not typically support the rights of minorities (I am talking about ideological minorities, not necessarily racial ones). That is why they are minorities -- because not that many people agree with them.
The courts, by contrast, support the rights of individuals because they are bound to follow the Constitution. The Constitution can usually be read to support the rights of individuals to express unpopular opinions.
So the difference comes because of the fact that courts are supposed to base their rulings on the Constitution while the people are free to indulge their prejudices.
I am not so sure about validity of the statement in the question that:
While the courts have generally protected our individual freedoms, the American people tend to support the restriction of these right in practice.
The fact is that there is wide variation among people about the need for restriction on individual freedom. Further, views of individuals are very much influenced by their subjective feeling. As a result they tend to expect greater freedom, when their personal conduct is involved, and demand greater restriction on freedom of others.
Courts on the other hand are guided only by the law of the land. Unfortunately a common individual does not know or understands such laws as well as the judges do. Though there can be some scope of different interpretation of the law, the courts are not expected to let subjective feelings of the judges influence their decision. In this way the stand of courts on the issue of individual is much more consistent and objective.
In this way the fundamental difference between views of individuals and the stand on courts on the issue of individual freedom is that, individual views are primarily base on subjective feelings and poor understanding of law, while the views of courts are based on objective understanding of legal provisions by people with much better knowledge and understanding of law.