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Survey: Tepid Support for Free Speech Among Students

January 30, 2019
 
 

College students support free expression generally, but their appreciation wavers when they are questioned on more specific issues, according to the results of a new survey.

Civil liberties watchdog group the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education surveyed 2,225 college students at two- and four-year institution about their opinions on free speech.

Almost all of them -- 96 percent -- believe that their civil rights should be protected. When asked which civil liberty is most important, 30 percent of the students indicated “free speech.”

But about 57 percent of the students said that they believe colleges and universities should be able to restrict expression of political views that are hurtful or offensive to others.

“These viewpoints are troubling from FIRE’s perspective,” the organization wrote in a summary of the survey. “They suggest only a surface-level understanding of free expression and association protections that underlie the First Amendment and an unwillingness to see them applied to the protection of expression most often censored on campus.”

FIRE also asked questions about the riots in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017. About 35 percent of the students said that the white nationalists’ protests and the counterdemonstrations changed how they felt about free expression on campus. About 52 percent of students said that white supremacists should be allowed to protest peacefully.

FIRE released a survey in October 2017 that found nearly the same results as this month’s.

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