College Student Poll: Is It OK To Use Violence To Shut Down Speakers? The Results Are Alarming.

Students' views on First Amendment, "hate speech" and the use of violence show deeply troubling shift.

With the explosion of anti-free speech disruption and violence by social justice and Antifa activists on campuses across the country over the last year, ​the Brookings Institution decided it was a good time to gauge college students' opinions on the crucial topics of the First Amendment and "hate speech." The results are very troubling.

In August, Brookings' John Villasenor asked 1,500 undergraduate students at 4-year colleges and universities in 49 states and D.C. to answer some First Amendment-related questions and found some surprising results. A plurality of students believe that subjectively defined "hate speech" is not covered by the First Amendment and a majority believe that disrupting speakers to silence them is acceptable — one in five students even going so far as to endorse the use of violence to prevent a speaker from presenting a message they don't like.

"The survey results establish with data what has been clear anecdotally to anyone who has been observing campus dynamics in recent years: Freedom of expression is deeply imperiled on U.S. campuses," Villasenor concludes.

In other words, Brookings found that the increasingly radical and anti-conservative atmosphere fostered by faculty and administrators, who are overwhelmingly left-leaning, is bearing its inevitable fruit. A few highlights from the study's findings:​

The survey found that a plurality (44%) of undergraduates do not believe "hate speech" is protected by the First Amendment, while 39% said it was. That result was roughly the same for Democrats (41/39), Republicans (39/44), and Independents (44/40). More females (49/31) said "hate speech" was not covered than males (38/51). Here's the chart he provides:

Does the First Amendment protect “hate speech”?

Political Affiliation Type of College Gender
All Dem Rep Ind Public Private Female Male
Yes 39 39 44 40 38 43 31 51
No 44 41 39 44 44 44 49 38
Don’t know 16 15 17 17 17 13 21 11

The study then asked students what response to a "controversial speaker" they found acceptable. The results were equally alarming. Here's the first of the two questions:

A public university invites a very controversial speaker to an on-campus event. The speaker is known for making offensive and hurtful statements.

A student group opposed to the speaker disrupts the speech by loudly and repeatedly shouting so that the audience cannot hear the speaker. Do you agree or disagree that the student group’s actions are acceptable?

Political Affiliation Type of College Gender
All Dem Rep Ind Public Private Female Male
Agree 51 62 39 45 51 51 47 57
Disagree 49 38 61 55 49 49 53 43

A majority of the students believe that suppressing free speech by making it impossible to hear the speaker is "acceptable" behavior, 51/49.

A significantly higher percentage of Democrats (62/38) deemed it acceptable, but still nearly four in ten Republicans did as well (39/61), while 45% of Independents agreed (45/55). Interestingly, females were more inclined to disagree with disrupting speakers (47/53) than males (57/43).

The follow-up question to that one produced a stunning result: one in five college students believe it is acceptable to use violence to silence those with whom they disagree. Here's the question and the results:

A student group opposed to the speaker uses violence to prevent the speaker from speaking. Do you agree or disagree that the student group’s actions are acceptable?

Political Affiliation Type of College Gender
All Dem Rep Ind Public Private Female Male
Agree 19 20 22 16 18 21 10 30
Disagree 81 80 78 84 82 79 90 70

The one notable deviation is that females are significantly less likely to agree to the use of violence than males: 10/90 and 30/70, respectively.

Two other revealing questions the students were asked concern the forcing of on-campus organizations hosting events to include "a speaker who presents an opposing view" to the "offensive" or "hurtful" speaker. A strong majority (62%) agreed that it should be "legally required" that the organizations provide speakers who oppose their featured speaker; just 38% disagreed.

Finally, students were asked to choose out of the following two options what type of learning environment they believed colleges should provide:

Option 1: create a positive learning environment for all students by prohibiting certain speech or expression of viewpoints that are offensive or biased against certain groups of people

Option 2: create an open learning environment where students are exposed to all types of speech and viewpoints, even if it means allowing speech that is offensive or biased against certain groups of people?

Political Affiliation Type of College Gender
All Dem Rep Ind Public Private Female Male
Option 1 53 61 47 45 53 54 52 55
Option 2 47 39 53 55 47 46 48 45

A majority (53%) chose option 1, in which the college would prohibit "certain speech or epxression of viewpionts that are offensive or biased against certain groups of people." Slightly more Democrats chose option 1 (53/47) than Republicans (47/53) and slightly more males (55/45) than females (52/48).

"As the above results make clear, among many current college students there is a significant divergence between the actual and perceived scope of First Amendment freedoms," wrote Villasenor. "More specifically, with respect to the questions explored above, many students have an overly narrow view of the extent of freedom of expression."

Villasenor provides a succinct summary of the scope of the First Amendment as established by key Supreme Court decisions, underscoring that "hate speech" is indeed protected by the Constitution:

The First Amendment is very broad. There are, however, some exceptions. Under the 1969 Brandenburg v. Ohio decision, speech that “is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action” is outside First Amendment protection. “True threats” are also unprotected (see the 1969 Watts v. United States decision; see also the 2003 ruling in Virginia v. Black). There are other exceptions as well; for example, obscenity can fall outside the scope of First Amendment protection. .... While “hate speech” is odious, as long as it steers clear of well-established exceptions to the First Amendment such as those noted above, it is constitutionally protected.

As Americans have begun to realize over the last year — and studies like this confirm — our college campuses have become the most hostile places in the country to the very thing they should most fully embrace: free speech and free expression. The left-leaning media and Democratic politicians' attempts to excuse and even glorify Antifa and other violence-embracing, anti-free speech "activists" have only escalated the problem.

Read the full study here.


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