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An overwhelming majority of students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison think the government should be able to punish “hate speech,” according to a new study released Thursday.

An online survey of 530 undergraduates, conducted by the Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership in partnership with the University of Wisconsin Survey Center, asked students, “How much do you agree or disagree with the following statement: The government should be able to punish hate speech?” More than half, 63 percent, responded that they agree, 29 percent disagreed, and 6 percent were unsure.

What constitutes “hate speech” is very subjective and a hot-button issue on college campuses. Left-wing activists are constantly trying to expand what the ambiguous term includes. Statements that veer from the leftist orthodoxy on issues such as abortion, gender, race, and immigration are often deemed “hate speech.”

In fact, 40 percent of students agree the government should be able to restrict the speech of “climate change deniers,” and 50 percent of students believe the government should be able to restrict the speech of “racially insensitive people.” An unsettling 53 percent believe that employers’ religious beliefs should give way when it comes to providing goods or services, such as contraceptives or abortion coverage, that violate their religious beliefs.

The report says that “these results show that many students find it difficult to distinguish between, on the one hand, the moral concerns of speech or activities that are contested or even detestable and, on the other, the long run value derived from free speech and religious liberty.”

The survey also found that female students are much less supportive of free speech than males. Of the male participants, 47 percent said they “slightly,” “somewhat,” or “strongly” agree that the government should be able to restrict hate speech, while 75 percent of female students believe so.

Self-identified liberals were another group more likely to support speech restrictions compared to self-identified conservatives. More than half of liberals (62 percent) agree that “hate speech” should be restricted, but only 18.1 percent of conservatives supported speech restrictions.


UW-Madison spokeswoman Meredith McGlone told The College Fix that the school believes strongly in the rights to free speech and expression provided in the First Amendment. “University campuses are fertile ground for the free exchange of ideas, and UW-Madison has a legacy of promoting free and open expression,” McGlone said in an email.

The Thompson Center disagrees, arguing the survey results “are at odds with UW-Madison’s stated dedication to academic freedom and freedom of expression” and insisting that the school “must do more to instill in its students a deeper respect for and understanding of the First Amendment, its protections, and the importance of an unfettered marketplace of ideas.”

The report says the survey is consistent with other recent polls of students’ attitudes toward free speech and expression. “The results are further troubling when taken in conjunction with other findings that the views between younger and older generations are ‘as wide as they have been in decades’ and that younger people are more supportive of limiting speech than older generations.”

Evita Duffy is an intern at The Federalist and a junior at the University of Chicago, where she studies American History. She loves the Midwest, lumberjack sports, writing, & her family. Follow her on Twitter at @evitaduffy_1



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