Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis
The electric chair apparatus in a Death row reenactment.
Photo licensed via Adobe Stock

Students: Free Speech Should Sometimes Result in Death Penalty

An open mind is apparently no longer valued at universities, the way it used to be

People who are used to thinking of college campuses as places where students go to learn about new ideas and the advantages of keeping an open mind might be interested in this recent survey conducted by McLaughlin and Associates:

Calls for diversity on campuses and in Main Street businesses and banning hate speech, even that protected by the 1st Amendment, are no longer issues to fight over for American college kids.

Now it’s a reason for the electric chair.

And when it comes to speech, nearly half believe the death penalty is OK to shoot down hate speech.

While the results might please left-leaning college professors, it is stirring concerns on the right who already feel that the left is turning every position they have into a “hate crime,” from abortion to immigration…

The survey is the eighth time the Buckley Program has surveyed students for their support for the Constitution and the furthest it has found students straying from basic American freedoms and values.

Paul Bedard, “College kids turn more liberal, OK speech death penalty” MSN/Washington Examiner (November 3, 2022)

Of special interest, perhaps, is the fact that many people believe — perhaps quite mistakenly — that a university education cultivates a broad ability to appreciate other points of view.

A law firm that represents people who have been the victims of viewpoint discriminationoffers some perspective on this development:

First, here’s the question:

Q25. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement:

“Violence in response to offensive speech is not a new phenomenon. In some cultures, some types of offensive speech even merit the death penalty. Some speech can be so offensive in certain cases that it merits such harsh punishment.”

AGREE overall: 47.8%

Strongly 19.7%
Somewhat 28.1%
DISAGREE overall: 37.7%

The Allen Harris firm comments,

… given how the question was phrased, there’s a good chance that some of the student respondents thought that they were answering a factual question rather than an opinion question. It’s not entirely clear whether the question is asking whether students themselves think that some offensive speech might “merit[] such harsh punishment” or whether they think that some cultures think this (the latter of which is true, assuming you can generalize to the opinion of “some cultures”). It’s also possible that students were reluctant to criticize other cultures and their values, even if they run wildly counter to our own.

This confusion might explain why a higher percentage of students seem to indicate that the death penalty might be merited for some speech (48%) than believe that physical violence might be justified to prevent “hate speech.” In future or follow-up surveys, it would be wise for this question to be better phrased.

The whole survey is interesting, if not that encouraging–but there is at least one bright spot. When asked if “incoming students and current college students need to be better educated on the value of free speech and the diversity of opinion on campuses,” more than 80% of students said they agreed. In our experience, this is highly true and long overdue at most schools.

Allen Harris Law, “Survey suggests college students think some speech might warrant violent reactions – even the death penalty” at Allen Harris Law

The firm specializes in defending such cases. The fact that they have that portfolio is part of the problem.

You may also wish to read: Stanford’s academic freedom conference slammed by academics. Opponents are angered by the fact that, although the conference will be live-streamed, it is by invitation only and no media are allowed. The choice to exclude mainstream media (MSM) is a sign of the times. There is no longer good reason to think that the current mainstream media necessarily support intellectual freedom.

Mind Matters News

Breaking and noteworthy news from the exciting world of natural and artificial intelligence at MindMatters.ai.

Students: Free Speech Should Sometimes Result in Death Penalty