From left, FIRE summer interns Bayard Miller (University of Pittsburgh), Erin Dunne (University of Michigan), and Tim Devine (Harvard University).
Nationwide polls on support for free speech are full of contradictions.
Research conducted by Gallup, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the Newseum Institute earlier this year found widespread support from college students for free speech in the abstract. However, the same poll also found tepid support when students were asked about specifics. According to the poll, a majority of respondents believed colleges should be able to restrict intentionally offensive speech and costumes that stereotype minorities.
Another more recent poll of the general population by the Newseum Institute and USA Today found a similar result.
These studies, and others like them, have often confounded those of us in the free speech advocacy business. So, for this week’s show, we decided to send the inimitable FIRE summer interns to Independence Mall—adjacent to FIRE’s Philadelphia headquarters—to conduct an unscientific survey of tourists’ attitudes toward free speech and other First Amendment freedoms.
Are the polls right? Do Americans generally support free speech ideals, and does that support fall off when, for example, it comes to college campuses and flag burning? If so, why?
The results might surprise you.
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