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Students aren’t sure if First Amendment protects hate speech: Poll

(AP Photo/Josh Edelson)

A majority of students on college campuses do not know that the First Amendment protects hate speech, according to a new report published by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

Only 46 percent of students are aware that the First Amendment protects hate speech, FIRE reports. 48 percent believe that hate speech should not be protected, despite the fact that it falls under free speech.

Though a large percentage of college students believe that hate speech is not worthy of the protections given to all speech, they are conflicted on how exactly to define it. FIRE found that some students believe any “unlawful discrimination” and “incitement” are hate speech. Others vaguely defined hate speech as a form of violence or “dehumanization.”

The Supreme Court has not provided a definition of hate speech, either, suggesting that “hate speech” is in the eye of the offended. In other words, when a clear definition is not present, any free speech could be labeled hate speech should a listener find it offensive, incendiary, or dehumanizing.

FIRE found a stark partisan divide on the topic of hate speech bans — 60 percent of students who identify as “very conservative” and 46 percent of Republicans think the First Amendment should protect hate speech. Conversely, 64 percent of students identifying as “very liberal,” and 57 percent of Democrats think hate speech should not be protected.

FIRE’s report also found that the desire to ban speech extends to limiting campus speakers. Most students (56 percent) support disinviting some guest speakers. A partisan divide again exists as Democratic students are 19 percentage points more likely than their Republican peers to agree that there are times a speaker should be disinvited.

The statistic about disinviting campus speakers is linked to FIRE’s other finding that 58 percent of college students think it is important to be part of a campus community where they are not exposed to intolerant or offensive ideas.

Yet, due to the lack of a clear definition of hate speech, these intolerant or offensive ideas may simply be the ones with which college students disagree.

FIRE is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending liberty, freedom of speech, due process, academic freedom, legal equality, and freedom of conscience on America’s college campuses. For this poll, it contracted with YouGov (California), a nonpartisan polling and research firm, to survey 1,250 American undergraduate students between May 25 and June 8 of 2017.

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