We have previously discussed how speech codes and regulations are changing the way students are viewing free speech. There is now a steady message for students from elementary school to college that speech must be regulated and that even people can be punished for not just hate speech but the ill-defined category of “microaggressive” speech. Past polls showed that one-third of students believed that violence is justified in dealing with some exercises of speech. Now a survey of college students found almost half do not believe that hate speech is protected by the First Amendment — a chilling indication of the collapsing support for traditional free speech values on our campuses.
The Knight Foundation conducted the survey that showed that 41 percent of college students believe hate speech should not be protected under the First Amendment. The survey also showed that the support for free speech is lower among women with 53 percent believing that hate speech should not be protected.
Of course, these polls do not press students on how should decide what speech is hateful and what speech is merely controversial. The polling shows the success of various faculty members who have been waging a war on free speech in preventing opposing views to be heard on campuses or enforcing speech codes.
We have been discussing the rising intolerance and violence on college campuses, particularly against conservative speakers. (Here and here and here and here). Berkeley has been the focus of much concern over mob rule on our campuses as violent protesters have succeeded in silencing speakers, even including a few speakers like an ACLU official and James Comey. Both students and some faculty have maintained the position that they have a right to silence those with whom they disagree and even student newspapers have declared opposing speech to be outside of the protections of free speech. At another University of California campus, professors actually rallied around a professor who physically assaulted pro-life advocates and tore down their display. In the meantime, academics and deans have said that there is no free speech protection for offensive or “disingenuous” speech. CUNY Law Dean Mary Lu Bilek showed how far this trend has gone. When conservative law professor Josh Blackman was stopped from speaking about “the importance of free speech,” Bilek insisted that disrupting the speech on free speech was free speech.
The United States could easily fall victim to the European movement to criminalize and regulate speech. While anathema to our defining values as a nation, many academics support the right to curtail speech that they deem to be offensive or hateful or insulting. The poll shows that students and faculty who believe in free speech must carry a greater burden if we are to preserve this fundamental right in the United States.