Free speech just isn’t as cool as it used to be, according to a Gallup and the Knight Foundation study of college students’ views on the subject.
The news isn’t great for this bedrock principle in America’s higher-learning institutions. College students overwhelmingly support free speech in the abstract, but when it comes to the real world, they are accepting of restrictions on it, which is in effect, not very supportive of free speech. And the numbers have gotten worse for speech on a lot of fronts since 2016.
Almost 90 percent of students say protection of free speech is extremely or very important to American democracy, but two-thirds also believe hate speech shouldn’t be protected by the First Amendment, and 83 percent support free-speech zones on campus, to contain pre-approved protests and distribution of messages. Not exactly the open inquiry we used to love.
There is some good news. In question after question, it appears the forces that are found shouting down speakers like Christina Hoff Sommers or burning Berkeley or attacking Charles Murray at Middlebury are a very loud minority. “Nine in 10 students say violence is ‘never acceptable'” to counter speech and a solid majority of 62 percent believe shouting down speakers is “never acceptable.” This leaves too-large percentages who think violence and shouting down are fine, but the vast majority of college students are in favor of traditional forms of protest without shutting down speech.
. . . .
There’s one question in the survey that crystallizes the problem with how we think about free speech in a pluralistic society these days, and might explain some of free speech’s recent backslide. The question was a new addition to the survey since the 2016 version. Students were asked to express how important they think the values of diversity and inclusion, and free speech, are to American society.
The good news is huge majorities thought both values were important. Eighty-nine percent of students thought protecting free speech rights is extremely or very important. An inclusive, diverse society garnered 83 percent.
But then they were asked to choose.
“When asked to choose which objective is more important to a democracy, college students prioritize promoting an inclusive society that is welcoming of diverse groups over one that protects citizens’ free speech rights, 53 to 46%,” the study finds. “Women, blacks and Democrats are more likely than their counterparts to choose inclusion over free speech.”
Link to the rest at MSN and thanks to Felix for the tip.
TPV is a blog about the book business, mostly from the viewpoint of authors, not a political blog.
However PG would like to clarify (for any who require it) that the First Amendment protects freedom of religion and freedom of speech and the press. Here it is:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Attentive readers will observer no mention of hate speech in this language. The US Constitution and the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments) were drafted and approved in 1787. The American Revolutionary War ended in 1783.
There was plenty of hate speech directed by Americans toward King George, his generals, his admirals, his army, his navy and Parliament during the Revolutionary War. Here are a few examples of hate speech directed at King George contained in the Declaration of Independence:
The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.
. . . .
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
. . . .
A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
A great many people involved in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence were also involved in drafting the Constitution and Bill of Rights. They didn’t change their minds about free speech between 1776 and 1787.
As far as the US Supreme Court’s application of the First Amendment to “hate speech”, in a unanimous opinion last summer in Matal v. Tam , they reiterated the lack of the right of government or any portion of it, to restrict speech that offends people or to restrict speech based on the content thereof.
Here are excerpts from the opinions of two of the justices:
Justice Samuel Alito wrote for for four justices:
[The idea that the government may restrict] speech expressing ideas that offend … strikes at the heart of the First Amendment. Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express “the thought that we hate.”
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote separately, also for four justices, but on this point the opinions agreed:
A law found to discriminate based on viewpoint is an “egregious form of content discrimination,” which is “presumptively unconstitutional.” … A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all. The First Amendment does not entrust that power to the government’s benevolence. Instead, our reliance must be on the substantial safeguards of free and open discussion in a democratic society.
And the justices made clear that speech that some view as racially offensive is protected not just against outright prohibition but also against lesser restrictions.
Link to the rest at The Washington Post