The liberty principle for this Freedom Friday is the simple fact that the freedom of speech on college campuses is threatened in America. This is so even though its protection is guaranteed under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It seems that educational institutions do not understand that their campuses must have freedom of speech in order for education to be more complete for each student. It also seems that each incident must be fought in court.
Kevin Shaw, age 27, is a student at Pierce College, and was barred from passing out free Spanish copies of the U.S. Constitution. It seems that he was not in the designated “free speech zone” on campus when he did so. He felt that he had a right to pass them out on campus and sought assistance from The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). A law suit was filed in March 2017 against the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) that represents nine schools including Pierce College. A federal district court in January 2018 denied a request from the District and Pierce College to dismiss the lawsuit. The court found that “the open spaces of public colleges are traditional public forums for student speech regardless of regulations.” LACCD agreed to settle the lawsuit this week. As part of their agreement, they agreed to revoke “a district-wide policy that declared all property on the district’s nine campuses to be `non-public forums’ with speech restrictions” and to pay $225,000 for Shaw’s attorney fees. Shaw was supported by “Folks of all political dispositions” who came together to declare the “freedom of speech is essential to the educational process.”
It appears that LACCD is not the only college district or campus to declare that freedom of speech does not apply on their campuses. An article dated December 11, 2018, begins with this statement: “The vast majority of students at America’s top colleges and universities surrender their free speech rights the moment they step onto campus, according to a new report from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education” (FIRE).
Released today, Spotlight on Speech Codes 2019: The State of Free Speech on Our Nation’s Campuses analyzes the written policies at 466 of America’s top colleges and universities for their protection of free speech. The report finds that 89.7 percent of American colleges maintain policies that restrict – or too easily could restrict – student and faculty expression. All of the analyzed policies are accessible in FIRE’s Spotlight Database. FIRE rates schools as “red light,” “yellow light,” or “green light” based on how much, if any, speech protected by the First Amendment their policies restrict.
“Most colleges impose burdensome conditions on expression by maintaining policies that restrict students’ free speech rights,” said FIRE Senior Program Officer Laura Beltz, lead author of the study. “Colleges should be a place for open debate and intellectual inquiry, but today, almost all colleges silence expression through policies that are often illiberal and, at public institutions, unconstitutional.”
More than a quarter of institutions in the report (28.5 percent) received FIRE’s poorest, red light rating for maintaining speech codes that both “clearly and substantially” restrict freedom of speech.
Seeing that Alaska was considered “red” I discovered that the University of Alaska Anchorage and the University of Alaska Fairbanks are both considered to fall under the “red” label. I was curious about my home state and discovered that Utah State University and Utah Valley University are also considered to be “red.”
More than 800,000 students attend institutions that have “free speech zones,” and 90 percent of public colleges maintain them. However, the number of private colleges who have “free speech zones” has dropped below 50 percent of “Red Light” ratings. Maybe it will take more students like Kevin Shaw fighting for freedom of speech for institutions to move into the real world of the United States.