According to a new Gallup survey, 72 percent of college students oppose campus restrictions on “expressing political views that are upsetting or offensive to certain groups.” However, when language is “intentionally offensive,” 69 percent would be in favor of prohibiting such speech, including 63 percent who would support administrative measures to ban “costumes that stereotype certain racial or ethnic groups.”
In other words, today’s college students only conditionally support the First Amendment:
As the sound and the fury over the “Trump 2016” chalkings shows, there’s a gray area between political expression and intentionally offensive speech in the minds of today’s college students.
As Gallup notes, that controversy may have arisen “out of the ambiguity of whether such messages are permissible expressions of controversial political viewpoints or impermissible expressions designed to hurt and threaten members of certain groups.”
Other metrics in the survey similarly show college students hedging on their commitment to free speech – supporting it in the abstract, but wavering when specific examples are put forward.
For example, while 70 percent of students said journalists should not be denied access to protests, things get a bit murkier when “fairness” or “feelings” are involved:
Forty-nine percent of students said obstructing journalists is “legitimate” if “the people at the protest believe the press will be unfair to them in its reporting”; 48 percent said blocking the media is “legitimate” if the “people at the protest or public gathering say they have a right to be left alone”; and 44 percent said it is “legitimate” if the protesters want to “tell their own story on the Internet and social media.”
Female and black college students were more likely to say the press can be blocked in such circumstances.
Once conditions are placed on free speech, it’ll be a slippery slope to no free speech at all.