A majority of students either don't think hate speech is protected by the First Amendment or aren't sure. And among the 46 percent of students who correctly state that hate speech is protected, nearly half of those students say it shouldn't be.
These are among the findings of a new survey of college students' opinions. The survey was conducted by the polling firm YouGov and published by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
A full 58 percent of students told the pollsters that they want to be part of a campus community that is free of "intolerant or offensive ideas." What's more, a
majority of Black (76%) and Latino students (69%) agree that it is important to be part of a campus community where they are not exposed to intolerant or offensive ideas, as opposed to one-half of White students (51% agree). Sixty-three percent of very liberal students and 45% of very conservative students agree that it is important to be part of a campus community where they are not exposed to intolerant or offensive ideas—an 18 percentage point difference.
Students' attitudes toward the public presentation of student opinions vary by ideology as well as by partisanship. Few very liberal students (17%) agree with the idea that they should not have to walk past student protests on campus, whereas a majority of very conservative students (64%) agree. There is a partisan divide of 32 percentage points in attitudes toward campus protest: 28% of Democrats and 60% of Republicans agree with the idea that they should not have to walk past student protests on campus.
The majorities are all wrong here: Black, Latino, and liberal students do not have a right to attend a university where intolerance is forbidden, and conservative students do not have the right to attend a campus where protesting is forbidden. Protests and the discussion of offensive ideas are both vital parts of the college experience, and at public universities they are protected by the First Amendment.
Most respondents supported bringing speakers to campus with whom they might disagree strongly, but 56 percent of students think it's sometimes appropriate for administrators to disinvite controversial speakers. More than 40 percent of strongly Democratic students would want their university to disinvite a transphobic or homophobic speaker, a racist or sexist, or Donald Trump. And more than 20 percent of strongly Republican students would want the university to disinvite a communist.
These findings are a reminder that while leftist students are often the most vocally opposed to free speech on college campuses, conservatives are sometimes not much better—particularly when pollsters ask different questions. As Stephanie Slade reported earlier this week, Republicans have terrible opinions about criminalizing the burning of the American flag, an act that is manifestly and inarguably protected by the First Amendment.
Yet I remain particularly interested in the leftists' intensely negative views about restrictions on speech, since it represents a relatively recent and dramatic shift of opinions. For more on this flip-flop, read Jill Lepore in The New York Times.