You've Been Warned

Speech under fire


Friends of free speech, despair: A majority of college students believe universities should restrict which kinds of expression are allowed on campuses, and more than six in 10 favor mandatory trigger warnings.

These findings come from a new poll undertaken by McLaughlin & Associates and published in The New Criterion. While the overwhelming majority of respondents agreed in the abstract that free speech and intellectual diversity are important ingredients for healthy campus debate, they grew much more inclined toward censorship when asked about specific kinds of speech.

Half said universities should prohibit other students from publishing cartoons that criticize religious or ethnic groups. Fifty-two percent said people who engage in "hate speech" should be prohibited from speaking on campus. And 72 percent said racist, sexist, and homophobic language should lead to disciplinary action.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the students who held these opinions were ignorant about the relevant laws. Just 68 percent were able to identify the First Amendment as the part of the Constitution that covers free speech, and a third of the respondents wrongly believed that hate speech is not protected. Thirty percent of liberal respondents thought the First Amendment should be done away with entirely.

The results did not always break down along ideological lines—moderates, for instance, were more likely than both liberals and conservatives to support speech codes. But it seems clear that the modern American left views the First Amendment with greater distrust than pro-speech liberals did in generations past.