A new survey has found that a whopping 41 percent of college students believe that hate speech should not be protected under the First Amendment, with only 58 percent saying that it should be.
The survey was conducted by the Knight Foundation and released earlier this month. It found that answers about free speech tended to differ among particular demographics. For example, it found that nearly 71 percent of college men said that protecting free speech was more important than inclusivity, while only 41 percent of college women agreed.
The survey also found that 68 percent of students say they believe the climate on campus prevents students from expressing their views because of fears that they might offend other classmates, with only 31 percent of students disagreeing with this.
Although the results are pretty sad, they shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who has been paying attention to college campuses these days. In April, administrators at Middlebury College apologized to students who were upset that a conservative speaker had been invited to campus — and promised to do more to stop right-wing speakers from being invited in the future. In December, students at Columbia University kicked a comedian off stage because they thought that even his left-leaning jokes were too offensive. In 2017, a survey found that only a measly 39 percent of college students even knew that the First Amendment did protect hate speech.
The unpopularity of the First Amendment as it stands is something that is very worrisome to me, and it should worry you too. Is that because I like hate speech? No, I do not like what I consider to be hate speech, and with that qualifier comes the point: Everyone is going to have a different view of what does and does not constitute “hate speech.” You might think that the definition would be obvious, but it’s really not. In fact, writing about political correctness for a living, I can tell you that I’m seeing someone declare a new word, phrase, or hairstyle to be “offensive” nearly every day. For example: Earlier this spring, some experts recommended that we stop using the word “cyclist” on the grounds that it “dehumanizes” people who ride bikes. Last winter, Google employees freaked out over the phrase “family friendly,” claiming that it’s “homophobic.” Last fall, a student was reportedly told that the phrase “long time no see” was allegedly “derogatory toward” Asians. To me, none of these things would qualify as “hate speech,” however, the people who have complained about them might have a different view — and watering down the First Amendment could easily result in even the seemingly innocuous becoming not only offensive, but illegal.
What’s always been the most interesting to me is that it seems as though most of the people who want to crack down on people’s First Amendment right to free speech are also people who are very liberal, the same kinds of people who often claim that President Donald Trump is a Nazi. In other words: They want the government to have the power to control speech, they think that the head of the government is a literal Nazi, and yet they don’t see any irony in that. It truly blows my mind.
Everyone isn’t always going to like every person in a position of power in this country, and that’s exactly why we need to keep our speech completely free. If we don’t do that, then our right to speak our minds is subject to the whims of whoever happens to be in power at that time — and that person might have a different view on what kind of speech is or is not acceptable. It could get very scary: If a leader, for example, decided that he or she considered any speech criticizing him or her to be “hate speech,” then we could even lose our right to place a check on government power using our First Amendment right to be critical in that way.
So what are we to do about hateful speech? We speak out against it. That’s right: The way to stop others from saying hateful things is not to use government power to silence them, but rather to use our own freedoms to combat what they say. After all, the only way to ensure that the government doesn’t have the power to police what we say is to make sure that we never give it that power in the first place — because the same laws that could be used to stop speech you don’t like could also at some point be used to silence you.
This story previously appeared in an article in Campus Reform.