We’re not quite sure what to make of a new poll from Virginia Commonwealth University. On the surface, it seems to conflict with many recent national polls regarding free speech – enough so that it is an extreme outlier. We have a feeling that Virginia residents were duped a bit by the wording of the survey, which used leftist language to get the kind of result they were likely looking for.
Even so, it shows that too many Virginians (and we would suspect you’d get similar results elsewhere) have too weak a grasp on the importance of the First Amendment to the Constitution.
The poll, which was taken prior to the controversial protest rally in Charlottesville, found that a “very narrow majority” of adult Virginia residents believe that colleges should focus on “protecting everyone on campus from discrimination, even if it means there are negative consequences for voicing one’s opinions.”
40% of respondents disagreed, saying that it was more important that colleges focus on “allowing everyone on campus to have unlimited freedom of expression, even if it means some groups of people may face discrimination.”
The poll also included that ever-present 5% of people who don’t know what’s going on. They say colleges should focus equally on both protecting people from harmful speech and protecting free speech.
In reporting the poll’s results, Virginia Commonwealth’s Office of Public Policy Outreach Director Robyn McDougle wrote, “On one hand, universities have long traditions of robust debate and free speech, but increasingly administrators are called on to ensure zones of safety from ongoing discrimination for students and other members of campus communities.
“These results show Virginians are divided over which to emphasize,” she continued, “with a very narrow majority believing that protection from discrimination should receive a higher emphasis than unlimited expression.”
The poll’s fault, of course, is that it uses that term “discrimination” to confuse the issue. The debate roiling on college campuses right now has nothing to do with “discrimination” in the legal sense of the word, so it’s misleading for the pollsters to use the term. It makes it sound like colleges have to make the choice between free speech and banning water fountains for colored people. Groups are not in danger of facing discrimination; they are in danger of being forced to stand by while opinions they disagree with are espoused. THAT’S the issue. And an increasing number of snowflake liberals are unable to accept that very low bar of free speech.
Still, it’s troubling to see that any majority, no matter how slight, is already so willing to take a hacksaw to the First Amendment just so “minorities” don’t get their feelings hurt. This is one culture war we cannot afford to lose.