Death Penalty for Hate Speech? Some College Students Think So

A new poll from McLaughlin & Associates offers a grim picture of the minds of college students.

The survey was done in September and was conducted in partnership with Yale University’s William F. Buckley program to get a pulse on what undergraduate students believe on a variety of issues, and The Washington Examiner reported the head-tilting results.


Perhaps the most concerning was how 48 percent of those polled agreed that “some speech can be so offensive in certain cases that it merits such harsh punishment like the death penalty.” The first part of the statement was that “violence in response to offensive speech is not a new phenomenon,” which is true. Of that 48 percent, 20 percent strongly agreed.

By contrast, only 38 percent disagreed and 15 percent were unsure.

Well, this is terrifying. But, as someone in college, I’m not in the slightest bit shocked.

While there are a few restrictions to free speech, and the things some people say in our current political discourse are deeply abhorrent, none of it warrants the death penalty.

Censorship of differing views is already ineffective and laughable, as it typically amplifies those voices and defeats the entire purpose of moderation, particularly on social media.

The fast-paced nature of how Americans consume media is arguably to blame for this, especially since young people might not have time to process arguments being made and develop principles before they swipe to watch the next clip. While the importance of the First Amendment can be taught in schools, it means nothing unless Generation Z is taught to respect differing views and understand that not everything is a threat. In fact, the real threat is thinking capital punishment could be on the table for offensive speech.


The death penalty is hotly debated across political lines, and it’s typically reserved for murder. Hurtful speech is not equivalent to killing somebody. Serious people understand this.

My generation has countless issues, and one of the biggest is that we tend to view things in black and white. Yes, that’s a generalization is of itself, except this data supports the fact that our political environment is growing more polarized. Professors, families, and peers need to hold each other accountable for how they respect people with dissenting views, as this shows a dangerous path for the future.

Free speech is the bedrock of the American experiment, and it’s essential that college students grasp this before we become the next generation of leaders.


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