Nearly Half of American College Students Believe Hate Speech Should Not Be Protected

58% expressed desire to not be exposed to 'intolerant or offensive ideas'

Protesters hold signs during a free speech rally
Protesters hold signs during a free speech rally / Getty Images
October 11, 2017

A new survey on American college students' views on free speech reveals that nearly half believe hate speech should not be protected under the First Amendment.

The report, a project of the pro-free speech organization Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), found that 48 percent of students do not think the First Amendment should protect hate speech. Thirty-five percent of students do think hate speech should be protected.

According to the study, 58 percent of students think it is important not to be exposed to "intolerant or offensive ideas." Respondents who labeled themselves Democrats were 19 percentage points more likely than those who identified as Republican to believe there are instances when speakers should be disinvited by a university. Disinviting speakers is supported by 78% of "very liberal" students and by 38% of "very conservative" students.

The survey aimed to offer a representative snapshot of students' political views on an average American campus, but Nico Perrino, an organization spokesperson, noted that all of the results, collected from some 1,200 students by YouGov between May 25 and June 8, may have changed following August's events in Charlottesville, where a white supremacist march left one counter-protester dead.

"For a lot of people, Charlottesville was a Rubicon moment," said Perrino, host of the FIRE free speech podcast "So to Speak."

Open-ended questions on what qualifies as "hate speech" received a variety of answers, but almost half included racism. Thirteen percent of students responded in the affirmative that racist speech is a form of violence.

FIRE has three more surveys planned, including one on student views of due process expected to come out in Spring 2018.

The survey's release follows an event on viewpoint diversity Tuesday night at New York University, co-hosted by FIRE and the Heterodox Academy, an academic freedom group.

Four professors from across the political spectrum discussed research that shows that, for the first time, children are more accepting of authoritarianism than their parents, and the upshot of this attitude on campus is a climate of ideological intolerance.