Welcome to the coming mobocracy.
It appears we are rearing a generation that already has all the answers, knows what needs to be said and done and will brook no deviation from the preordained norm. Debate is not an option.
In the face of a deluge of anti-free speech activities, including actual riots, on college campuses across the country, Brookings Institution researcher John Villaseñor conducted a survey of 1,500 current undergraduate students at the nation’s colleges and universities in order to determine just how well the First Amendment is understood and embraced on campus.
One of Villaseñor’s first questions was whether or not “hate speech,” whatever that is, is protected by the First Amendment. Fully 44 percent said it is not, while only 39 percent said it is. A distressingly high 16 percent of college students did not know one way or the other.
These answers came shortly after the Supreme Court ruled in June that a trademark could not be denied simply because it contained a racial slur. An Asian-American rock band had been denied a trademark for its name “Slants.”
Justice Samuel Alito stated categorically: “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.’”
Apparently not on campus.
The Brookings survey also asked about the acceptability of the so-called heckler’s veto by setting up the scenario that a controversial speaker has been invited to campus and asking: “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?”
A majority, 51 percent agreed that is acceptable, while 49 percent disagreed. Among Democrats fully 62 percent agreed to 38 percent disagreeing, while only 39 percent of Republicans agreed and 61 percent disagreed.
Perhaps even more disturbing was the next question in that scenario: “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?”
Nineteen percent called using violence to prevent a speech acceptable, including 30 percent of males.
Villaseñor observed, “These results are notable for several reasons. First, the fraction of students who view the use of violence as acceptable is extremely high. While percentages in the high teens and 20s are ‘low’ relative to what they could be, it’s important to remember that this question is asking about the acceptability of committing violence in order to silence speech. Any number significantly above zero is concerning. The gender difference in the responses is also notable.”
The survey also found an incredible ignorance of what the law requires when it comes to free speech. A strong majority of students are under the impression that the First Amendment requires that an on-campus organization hosting an offensive speaker is “legally required” to ensure the event includes an opposing view.
Not even the FCC still insists on the Equal Time Doctrine.
But 62 percent of college students thought there is — not should be, but already is — a legal requirement to provide an opposing view.
Villaseñor found, as should we all, the survey result highly disturbing, especially the fact that so large a faction found violence an acceptable deterrent to speech they find offensive.
“Given these results, what should be done?” Villaseñor asks. “First, I think that college faculty and administrators have a heightened responsibility to do a better job at fostering freedom of expression on their campuses. Getting this to occur will be challenging. I expect that if college faculty and administrators were asked the questions in this survey, the results would, at least in broad terms, be similar to the student results presented above. That said, I would hope that results such as these can help spur faculty members and university administrators to think about the importance of creating a campus environment in which students are exposed to a broad range of views, including some that students may find disagreeable.”
(Prediction: In this age of identity politics, the survey will be dismissed simply because it was financed by one of the Koch brothers.)
We must champion free speech before it is lost.
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Thomas Mitchell is a former newspaper editor who now writes conservative/libertarian columns for weekly papers in Nevada. You may email Mitchell at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at http://4thst8.wordpress.com/.