The status of the First Amendment on college campuses is a matter of intense debate, with many progressives arguing that fears about free expression being under attack in academia are overblown and exaggerated. Columbia University President Lee Bollinger penned a June commentary for The Atlantic under the heading of “Free Speech on Campus is Doing Just Fine, Thank You.”
Mr. Bollinger offers a perspective that has become common on the left. But perhaps the proliferation of university speech codes, the shaming and self-censorship inherent in “woke” culture and the many high-profile instances of campus leftists shouting down or disrupting speakers may lead others to reach different conclusions.
And now comes a new poll from the Campaign for Free Speech to add fodder to the controversy. According to the survey, released last month, 60 percent of millennials — many of whom now occupy or are recently graduated from college campuses — believe that the Constitution “goes too far in allowing hate speech in modern America.” A majority of that demographic also said that “hate speech” should be a crime punishable by jail time.
Overall, a majority of those surveyed agreed with the notion that the First Amendment should be rewritten to better “reflect the cultural norms of today” — meaning to reflect the authoritarian urges of progressives looking to shield members of “historically marginalized” groups from words or viewpoints they don’t like.
“The findings are frankly extraordinary,” Bob Lystad, director of the campaign, told The Washington Free Beacon. “Our free speech rights and our free press rights have evolved well over 200 years, and people now seem to be rethinking them.”
The findings track well with a January survey by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which found that 57 percent of college students believe schools should restrict speech that others find offensive.
“These viewpoints are troubling,” the foundation noted. “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.”
The idea that nobody should ever be subjected to views or language they find offensive is a particularly pernicious and callow outlook. But to further argue that the state should incarcerate those who violate vague “hate speech” laws is to embrace an Orwellian tyranny of oppression masquerading as tolerance. It apparently never occurs to the purveyors of such dangerous nonsense that a government hostile to free speech and expression may one day set its sights on them.
Mr. Bollinger insists that all is well when it comes to college students and the First Amendment. These surveys reveal that the Columbia University president may want to venture out of his ivory tower a bit more often.