These troubling studies show why it’s important that students understand the Constitution

recent survey found that as many as one in five college students think it’s okay to incite violence against a speaker if they say “offensive or hurtful things.”

Let that sink in for a moment.

That means when a campus mob gives a professor a concussion, or blocks access to a speech they disagree with, or erupts in violent protests and vandalism, it’s not just a few people off in the fringes that think this is okay.

Add to that another poll that shows nearly four in ten Americans can’t name any of the rights the First Amendment protects, and we have a problem on our hands.

University officials across the country are only perpetuating this problem by limiting their students’ constitutional rights.

And that’s a problem that the Center for Academic Freedom (CAF) at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is dedicated to stopping. The CAF legal team has represented hundreds of college students on public university campuses across the United States when their universities have infringed upon their First Amendment rights. And CAF’s 90 percent success rate in court proves that this is a fight for freedom that we can win.

Constitutional violations on college campuses come in many different forms:

  • Speech Codes limit what students can say, often under the guise of “harassment,” “civility,” or similar reasonable-sounding policies that unfortunately lump constitutionally protected speech in with true threats, harassment, and other unprotected speech.
  • Speech Zones tell students when and where they can speak – unconstitutionally limiting free speech to a small, out-of-the-way area of campus, in a prescribed time, or only with permission of administrators.
  • Student Fee Policies require students to fund other groups’ expression while giving student government or university officials the power to distribute funds disproportionately to the viewpoints that they favor.
  • Anti-Freedom of Association Policies prevent religious, political, or other student groups from ensuring that their voting members or leaders actually agree with the beliefs that the group exists to promote.

No wonder we can’t name our First Amendment rights.

Our public institutions, which should be dedicated to teaching their students how constitutional freedoms work, are actually taking away those freedoms. Students are learning that if they don’t like what someone says or believes, they need only ask the government to investigate and punish rather than engage the person in dialogue.

And students that incite violence on campus against viewpoints they disagree with are rarely punished. There was some half-hearted wrist-slapping in some instances of campus violence. This reinforces the message that violence is an acceptable response to viewpoints you disagree with.

That’s why it’s so important that students stand up to their university officials when their rights are trampled. And when they do so, they need someone to stand with them. That’s what our CAF attorneys do. They enable these students to make a difference on their campuses, which in turn can promote a better understanding of the Constitution.

After all, shouldn’t we know the founding document of our own country?