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Free Speech Support Remains Rocky on Campus

Photo by Muns

The latest Gallup/Knight Foundation survey is being cited in certain circles as evidence that there’s no problem in terms of respect for open discussion and free speech on college campuses. That’s pretty remarkable given the actual findings of the survey. Matthew Yglesias of Vox, for instance, somehow managed the other day to reference the 2016 survey, without mentioning the deterioration in findings in the now-available 2017 survey.

What sort of deterioration? Glad you asked. According to the 2017 Knight survey, “Sixty-one percent of students, up from 54% in the prior survey, strongly agree or agree that the climate on their campus prevents some people from saying things they believe because others might find them offensive.”

That’s the students themselves saying that it’s becoming more difficult to voice unpopular opinions on campus.

The survey is by no means a complete horror show. For example, only a small minority (10 percent) endorse using violence against speakers whose views they dislike. So there’s that. A larger minority of 37 percent thinks shouting down opposing views is acceptable. It’s not, in case I have to make that clear.

By and large, the survey seems to reveal support for free speech as a generic ideal, but much less tolerance for views that many college students actually dislike.

The survey conclusion reads, in part:

College students generally endorse First Amendment ideals in the abstract. The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump’s candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is “always acceptable.”

Why does this matter? Because college students graduate and become adults. If they bring into the adult world an intolerance for dissenting views, that’s something with which we’ll all have to grapple.

Full survey here.

Hey Enterprise, Could You Sever Ties With Me As Well?

Hi folks,

I have a favor to ask. Since you’re ending your relationship with the National Rifle Association, could you add my name to the list of companies, organizations, and individuals with which you won’t do business? You see, any objections you could have to the NRA apply to me many times over, and it’s only fair that you put the same distance between us.

The February 22 announcement by your company’s @enterprisecares Twitter account (https://twitter.com/enterprisecares/status/966847626439086082), “Thank you for contacting us! All three of our brands have ended the discount for NRA members. This change will be effective March 26. Thank you again for reaching out. Kind regards, Michael” was followed by repeated announcement by all three of your brands on Feb. 23 (https://twitter.com/enterprisecares/status/966832314532618241, https://twitter.com/nationalcares/status/966832392655663104, https://twitter.com/alamocares/status/966832358841139206). Your decision came as a specific response to calls to boycott the NRA because of its opposition to further government interference in self-defense rights–specifically, the private ownership and use of firearms.

If you’re going to refuse to do business with the NRA because of its support of an area of individual freedom, it’s only fair that you extend me the same courtesy. I’m a political columnist who has long and loudly opposed government restrictions on any area of liberty, including self-defense rights. I long stayed independent of the NRA not because I found it too radical in this area, but because I found it too compromising on the issue, often hostile to other liberties, including free speech and freedom from unreasonable search-and-seizure, and too supportive of law enforcement. That is, your qualms about doing business with the NRA should be even stronger with regard to me, since I am a less compromising advocate of individual liberty. I offer as evidence my column recommending that people carry guns without seeking government permission: “Carry a Gun—Without a Permit”.

Also, since you are apparently cutting ties with organizations that oppose government infringement of individual rights, I suggest that you consider taking a similar public stance against other pro-liberty groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fully Informed Jury Association, and Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, among others. I’m sure you wouldn’t want to be inconsistent.

J.D. Tuccille