Here’s How the Right Gets Free Speech Wrong

A (notably peaceful) collegiate protest in Boston.

I’m tired of having my politics dismissed because of my age. In the past two years, protests on college campuses across the country have given way to a perception of millennials as liberal “snowflakes”, i.e. weaklings who will melt under the heat of rough-and-tumble free speech. This stereotype is simplistic and counterproductive.

According to a 2016 Gallup poll, college students are actually more favorable towards allowing offensive speech in their immediate environment than U.S. adults in general. 78 percent of college students surveyed said that “expressing political views which are offensive or upsetting to certain groups” should be permitted, compared to just 66 percent of U.S. Republicans in general.

A college-aged protestor at a Trump rally has his right to free speech forcefully taken away.

When Republicans cry that free speech is dying, they not only unfairly make millennials and college students their bogeymen, but state as fact something that most of us wholeheartedly disagree with. In the same Gallup poll, 73 percent of college students believed that the right to free speech was safe, as opposed to only 56 percent of Americans as a whole. Not only do millennials hold free speech in higher esteem than most Americans — even First Amendment-oriented Republicans — we also place more trust in it than any other generation. It is remarkable, therefore, that Republican pundits have managed to frame us as namby-pamby doormats who, when confronted with differing political beliefs, can only retreat to our established safe-spaces for encouragement.

The likely rebuttal to these numbers will be to point out the aforementioned protests which have dominated the news recently. You can reconcile the two lines of thought, though: the 22 percent of college kids who don’t support the right to offensive speech represents about 4.5 million kids willing to make a whole lot of noise for their cause. The point isn’t that these people don’t exist, but rather that while loud, they’re still in the vast minority. The temptation to dismiss our generation as ‘snowflakes’ before we speak is strong, but that characterization pushes the more reasonable 78 percent away from having political opinions and participating in valuable discourse. Nobody wants to be shunned for their political opinions, and millennials are no exception. We want to be involved in our country’s direction and affairs. Give us the opportunity to debate and we’ll reward you with our engagement and enthusiasm.

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