Press Releases

Apr 25, 2017

Newseum Finds “Alternate Understanding” of the First Amendment Among Young Adults

Newseum President and CEO Jeffrey Herbst Argues That Students Increasingly Believe in the “Right to Non-offensive Speech”

WASHINGTON — In a new white paper published today, Newseum President and CEO Jeffrey Herbst argues that young adults have developed an “alternate understanding” of the First Amendment, with more students believing that it should not protect offensive speech – particularly when the offense is directed at groups that are defined in terms of race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.

In the paper, titled “Addressing the Real Crisis of Free Expression on Campus,” Herbst contends universities should be a forum for the free exchange of ideas, but instead, they are becoming places where speech is censored, sometimes forcefully, by students. Recent incidents in which student protesters prevented conservative thought-leaders from speaking at college campuses, reflect a widely-shared perspective among young adults that there are exceptions to the rule of free speech.

Herbst identifies a surprising source for this new understanding of the First Amendment, and identifies factors in students’ development that could reinforce it as students move from high school to college. Citing research from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Newseum Institute, PEN America, the Pew Research Center and other sources, Herbst paints a comprehensive picture of student free expression issues that goes beyond episodic analysis of campus speech incidents.

The paper provides a set of recommendations for increasing student tolerance of offensive speech, and helping them become stronger advocates for free expression. Among Herbst’s recommendations: first and secondary schools must educate students on the First Amendment; colleges and universities must make an absolutist case for free speech; and schools must continually make the case that free speech helps minorities and those who are alienated.

Now, when the younger generations make up the largest age demographic in America (Millennials now outnumber Boomers), it is more critical than ever to educate students on the First Amendment – and the full rights it affords. The danger in not doing so, writes Herbst, would lead to nothing less than restrictions on our core freedoms.

Generous support for this project was provided by the Knight Foundation.

About the Newseum Institute

The Newseum Institute, headquartered at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., is dedicated to free expression and the five freedoms of the First Amendment: religion, speech, press, assembly and petition. The Newseum Institute promotes the study, exploration and education of the challenges confronting freedom through its First Amendment Center and the Religious Freedom Center. The Newseum is a 501(c)(3) public charity funded by generous individuals, corporations and foundations, including the Freedom Forum. For more information, visit newseuminstitute.org or follow us on Twitter.

Press Contacts

Jonathan Thompson
202/292-6353
jothompson@newseum.org