About 40 percent of young people think the American government should be able to censor statements that are offensive to minority groups, the Pew Research Center found last year.
And that, according to free speech and religious liberty advocate Greg Lukianoff, is a dangerous statistic.
“Something’s happened in the past couple of years,” he said. “It seems we’ve gone from students demanding freedom of speech to them demanding freedom from speech.”
Lukianoff, a Stanford Law School graduate and First Amendment lawyer, is president and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which says its mission is to defend free speech, equal rights, due process, religious liberty and the sanctity of conscience at American colleges and universities.
Wednesday evening, Lukianoff spoke to about 100 members of the public at Metairie Park Country Day School on “Free Speech: The Foundation for All Liberty.”
The discussion was part of Free Market, a lecture series presented annually to students and adults at Country Day and Isidore Newman schools that offers perspective about free enterprise. Now in its sixth year, the series is sponsored by prominent local businessmen Jay Lapeyre and Greg Rusovich, who support both schools.
“In our own little way, I think it’s been an intellectual force in the community in the past few years,” Howard Hunter, the academic dean of Country Day, said about the series.
In his lecture, Lukianoff said it isn’t just students who call for censorship of what they deem to be “offensive” speech. College administrators, too, tend to have little tolerance for views that are unpopular and that could be considered disagreeable, he said.
Audience members were quick to laugh at some of the examples he recited.
In 2010, for example, a police chief said if a student wore “an offensive costume” for Halloween, the department likely would “require them to remove it” and then “file a judicial complaint.”
And last year, an assistant communications professor at the University of Missouri was caught on video calling for “some muscle” to remove a videographer trying to capture a protest on campus.
“They just overreach all the time,” Lukianoff said.
The federal government, too, has been working behind the scenes to limit speech through language, he said. For example, the departments of Justice and Education issued a “blueprint” for colleges and universities on sexual harassment, calling it “any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.”
According to Lukianoff, such language is so broad that it becomes a potential violation of students’ First Amendment rights.
“This is what I call the secret engine of speech suppression on campus,” he said.
Lukianoff is the author of “Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate,” a 2014 book that argues that universities fail to allow students to become critical thinkers when they stifle debate and promote what it calls “groupthink.”
In the book, he describes what he calls “startling violations” of the right to free speech.
In Georgia, for example, a student was expelled for posting a collage supporting environmental activism, while a Yale student was banned from putting a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald onto a shirt, Lukianoff said.
And last year, Lukianoff co-wrote with Jonathan Haidt a story in The Atlantic, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” which condemns the use of “trigger warnings,” or alerts professors are expected to issue if something in the course’s content might cause a strong emotional response.
Examples can be racism or sexual violence in a body of work, and offended students can then choose to avoid that material, Lukianoff and Haidt explained in the piece.
Lukianoff encouraged audience members to stop giving money to their alma mater until they check on its free speech policy and to educate high school students about what they can expect in college.
Hunter explained why he thought it was important that Lukianoff speak at Country Day.
“All of our students are going to college,” he said.