When college students fell for a fake petition to ban expressions of Christmas on their campus, I shook my head but wasn't surprised. The absurdity of forbidding candy canes or limiting decorations to lighted trees that don't have gifts under them is the ironic result of a decades-long effort for greater inclusivity in academia and society.

However, we've passed the point of welcoming all people, ideas and beliefs to the public square and campus common to censor anything that celebrates our uniqueness and differences.

Public officials, school systems and college administrators are limiting expressions of Christmas to avoid offending worshippers of other religions or the non-religious. The data on Americans' views and celebration of Christmas, however, don't support such draconian measures.

Nearly all Christians in the United States say they celebrate Christmas, and eight out of 10 non-Christians also celebrate the holiday. Atheists, agnostics and those with no particular religious affiliation, as well as Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and others, celebrate Christmas because most non-Christians view Christmas as a "cultural" event.

Young people are no different. Nine out of 10 millennials celebrate Christmas. Slightly more (43 percent) view it as a cultural holiday than a religious one (40 percent). Overwhelmingly, millennials engage in festive activities such as putting up a Christmas tree and buying presents for family and friends — more than older generations in both cases. Who is offended by the Christmas wreath on the academic building door?

It used to be that school administrators were the enemy of free speech, breaking up student rallies against war. Today, administrators carry out the wishes of sheltered young adults whose view of the world is insulated and limited to the people they interact with on a day-to-day basis. Gone are the defiant, fist-shaking campus hippies who would take up a cause, any cause, in the name of freedom and individuality. Today's young people would rather blend in and acquiesce to the demands of a few in an effort not to offend or hurt anyone's feelings.

It's easy to blame their insularity on being naïve about the world, but that misses the role of academic institutions in emasculating our young people. Heavy inculcation of a progressive agenda places value on group-think rather than individuality and on caving to the demands of the loud minority rather than getting along with their differences. For example, freshmen are invited (in some cases required) to attend workshops that prepare them for life on campus.

While warnings about underage drinking, drug use and unwanted sexual advances promote safety, increasingly young people are force-fed presentations on misogyny, racism, homophobia, religious intolerance and more under the diversity banner. Students learn quickly that "microaggressions" will lead to life as a social pariah. They are conditioned to look out for "trigger warnings" at the top of course syllabi and they are implored to run to campus "safe spaces" where they can revert back to thumb-sucking pre-kindergarten days at the sight of President-elect Trump chalkings.

College years are critical moments in the formation of a young person's thought process. Research shows that the brains of teens are malleable and vulnerable. A study of college women found that "through late childhood and early adolescence, attitudes are relatively malleable … with the potential for dramatic change possible in late adolescence or early adulthood. But greater stability sets in at some early point, and attitudes tend to be increasingly persistent as people age." In politics, that malleability translates into an opportunity to lock down a voter for life. For our society, it could lead to a generation of Wizard of Oz Scarecrows, too fearful to challenge the status quo to bring about the constant change that makes our democracy healthy.

It's critical that colleges not squander this opportunity to expose their students to new ideas, beliefs and perspectives. The care with which they hand-pick their student bodies to create diverse communities that reflect varying race, gender, socio-economic, religious and philosophical beliefs is wasted if students and faculty are not permitted to voice their opinions or express their beliefs. We learn and grow as individuals when there is a healthy exchange of knowledge. Students are trading the color and texture of individualism for vanilla conformity. Our belief system is part of what makes us individuals, and to deny the expression of that denies who we are.

If we set our hope on the wake-up call that awaits our young people in the real world, we are setting our society up for failure. Millennials have surpassed Baby Boomers as the largest generation. If not corrected, we risk them influencing every sector of business, government and society with the "snowflake" mentality that avoids offense at all costs.

President Reagan's infamous quote that "freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction" is not limited to fighting for freedom from oppressive governments. Guarding against limitations on free speech and expression on campus is just as important. When we see videos making fun of college students willing to eradicate Christmas from their campus, we shouldn't laugh, but instead act against threats to freedom of speech.