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Religious students less likely to cancel campus speakers than non-religious students

"Those of no faith, atheist or agnostic are far more open to trying to stop expression."

September 22, 2022 6:45pm

Updated: September 22, 2022 6:45pm

College students with a faith identification were less likely to support shouting down a campus speaker or blocking other students from attending a campus event compared to non-faith students, according to free speech advocates.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression released their 2022-2023 College Free Speech Rankings earlier this month based on surveys of with 45,000 currently enrolled students nationwide and actions taken by their administrations. The study does not ask about religious practice or attitude but does about religious identification, or lack thereof.

An analysis of the survey data by the American Enterprise Institute found that when asked about the acceptability of shouting down a speaker to prevent them from speaking on campus, 57% of students who identified with a religion believe there are times it would be acceptable. This percentage was much higher among students who did not identify with a faith, at 71%.

34% of students with a faith identification maintained there are times when blocking other students from attending a campus event was acceptable, compared to 43% among non-faith students.

“These figures are too high, but it is very clear that even with fairly crude measures of faith, those of no faith, atheist or agnostic are far more open to trying to stop expression,” said AEI nonresident senior fellow Samuel J. Abrams in an op-ed about the findings.

Abrams noted that it is religious students who feel pressured to remain silent on college campuses, with 59% reporting they self-censor occasionally or more often compared to 48% for those who do not identify with a faith.

“These numbers highlight how students of faith experience higher education differently than those of no faith,” said Abrams. “Those who do not identify with any faith are far more willing to express themselves than their religiously identifying counterparts, but they are more open to silencing dissent and ideas which they may find objectionable.”

The FIRE report found that the three most difficult topics to discuss on campus are abortion, racial inequality and COVID-19 vaccine mandates. 40% of respondents said they are uncomfortable disagreeing with a professor – in public or in a written assignment.  

The study found clear majorities of students believe campus speakers whose beliefs fall outside “liberal orthodoxy” should not be allowed to speak on campus. For example, 74% do not support allowing a campus speaker who says transgender people have a mental disorder and 60% oppose one who says abortion should be completely illegal.