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Study exposes college students don’t understand the First Amendment

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As college students continue to debate over free speech, a new study finds that a majority of them don’t believe or don’t know if the First Amendment protects hate speech.

In the study conducted by the Brookings Institution, 60 percent of students across all party affiliations don’t believe or don’t know if hate speech is protected under the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution. Of those 60 percent surveyed, 44 percent said they don’t believe the First Amendment protects this type of speech, while 16 percent said they don’t know. 39 percent said that the First Amendment protects hate speech.

Upon further breakdown of the numbers, Republicans were the only group where more respondents (44 percent) said that the First Amendment protects this type of speech over those who said it doesn’t (39 percent). 17 percent were not sure.

When asked if it’s acceptable for a student group to disrupt controversial speakers by continuously shouting them down, 51 percent of all students believe that it’s acceptable, while 49 percent disagreed. 62 percent of Democrats said they support those type of actions, while 61 percent of Republicans disagreed with their methods.

However, when it comes to using violence to shut down a controversial speaker, nearly one in five students believe those actions are acceptable.

And if given the option between colleges 1) creating a positive learning environment for all students by prohibiting certain speech or expression of viewpoints that are offensive or biased against certain groups of people, or 2) creating an open learning environment where students are exposed to all types of speech and viewpoints, even if it means allowing speech that is offensive or biased against certain groups of people, Democrats and Republicans split. 61 percent of Democrats prefer option 1 where certain speech is prohibited while 53 percent of Republicans prefer option 2 where every type of speech is allowed. Oddly enough, 55 percent of Independents prefer the second option as well.

This study reemphasizes the need for schools to teach more civic lessons on the U.S. Constitution, so that young people understand how their government and society should be. In the meantime, it’s up to colleges and universities to pick up the slack by teaching the Constitution where primary and secondary schools failed.


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