NEW REPORT: Most U.S. Colleges Violate Students’ Free Speech Rights
News Release from TheFire.org December 13, 2014
PHILADELPHIA, December 13, 2014—The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) released its 2015 report and interactive infographic on campus speech codes across America today. FIRE’s findings show that more than half of the 437 schools analyzed maintain policies severely restricting students’ right to free speech.
“Most universities continue to enforce speech codes that don’t satisfy First Amendment standards,” said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. “For the seventh consecutive year, however, the percentage of speech codes has dropped, and we’re happy to see that. But the federal government’s efforts to address sexual harassment on campus are leading a number of universities to adopt flatly unconstitutional speech policies.” Lukianoff added, “The greatest threat to free speech on campus may now be the federal government.”
Major findings from Spotlight on Speech Codes 2015: The State of Free Speech on Our Nation’s Campuses include:
However, under pressure from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, a number of universities, including Penn State and the University of Connecticut, have newly adopted unconstitutional speech codes under the guise of harassment policies. Absent explicit clarification from the Department of Education, FIRE expects this unfortunate trend to continue.
Spotlight on Speech Codes 2015 reports on policies at more than 400 of America’s largest and most prestigious colleges and universities, all of which are accessible online in FIRE’s searchable Spotlight database.
“The continued decline in speech codes is excellent news,” said Samantha Harris, FIRE’s Director of Policy Research. “But supporters of free speech need to confront the threat from the federal government head-on and work to make sure colleges understand that no government regulation can trump the First Amendment.”
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, freedom of expression, academic freedom, due process, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.
WSJ: Unfree Speech on Campus
Spotlight: UH Hilo
From: Spotlight on Speech Codes 2015: The State of Free Speech on Our Nation’s Campuses
...In September 2013, Modesto Junior College (MJC) student Robert Van Tuinen was ordered by the college administration to stop handing out copies of the Constitution on Constitution Day because he had not sought prior permission and was not in the college’s small free speech area. After FIRE wrote to MJC asking the college to rescind its unconstitutional policies and received no satisfactory response, Van Tuinen filed a federal lawsuit in October 2013 alleging that the college’s enforcement of its free speech policies violated his First Amendment rights. The college settled the case in February 2014, agreeing to pay Van Tuinen $50,000 and to revise several policies so as to open the campus up to free speech.
Amazingly, Modesto Junior College was not the only school in recent memory to violate students’ First Amendment rights by ordering them to stop distributing copies of the Constitution. In January 2014, members of the student group Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) at the University of Hawaii at Hilo (UH Hilo) were also told to stop handing out Constitutions at an outdoor campus event because they were not in the university’s free speech zone—a small, muddy area comprising just 0.26 percent of the university’s campus at the time.
In April 2014, the president of UH Hilo’s YAL chapter, along with a fellow group member, filed suit in federal court alleging that the university’s actions had violated their First Amendment rights. Although negotiations in that lawsuit are still ongoing as of the time of this report, UH Hilo announced in May that it was implementing an interim policy on speech and expression in the meantime, one that would “permit student speech and assembly without first having to apply for or obtain permission from the university in all areas generally available to students and the community, defined as open areas, sidewalks, streets, or other similar common areas.”
Despite the threat of successful litigation, free speech zones remain common....
What Can Be Done?
The good news is that the types of restrictions discussed in this report can be defeated. A student can be a tremendously effective advocate for change when he or she is aware of First Amendment rights and is willing to engage administrators in defense of them. Public exposure is also critical to defeating speech codes, since universities are often unwilling to defend their speech codes in the face of public criticism.
Unconstitutional policies also can be defeated in court, especially at public universities, where speech codes have been struck down in federal courts across the country. Indeed, this past summer, FIRE launched the Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project, a national effort to eliminate unconstitutional speech codes through targeted First Amendment lawsuits. The lawsuits against Modesto Junior College and the University of Hawaii at Hilo are part of this effort, as are lawsuits against Chicago State University, Citrus College in California, Iowa State University, Ohio University, and Western Michigan University....