Congress Moves to Protect Free Expression on College Campuses
House Judiciary Chairman Wants Answers about First Amendment from Public CollegesMarquette, being a private school, is not affected by this, in spite of having a speech code with a “red light” rating. Of course, private schools should be free to restrict speech if they choose to, although in virtually every case this is a bad idea. And private universities are acting immorally if they promise free expression and then stifle speech. Indeed, in most cases their proclaimed policies protecting speech constitute a contractual obligation.
WASHINGTON, August 14, 2015—The Chairman of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee sent letters today to the presidents of 161 public colleges and universities across the country to ask them why their policies fail to protect the First Amendment rights of students and faculty.
The letters were sent by Representative Bob Goodlatte to leaders of institutions that received the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s (FIRE’s) lowest, “red light” rating in our annual report on campus speech codes. Colleges that receive this rating maintain at least one policy that clearly and substantially restricts protected speech.
The letters follow FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff’s testimony before Congress earlier this summer. On June 2, Lukianoff testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice about the state of free speech on America’s public college campuses.
“During my testimony, I shared FIRE’s deep concern that highly restrictive speech codes are the rule rather than the exception on public college campuses nationwide,” said Lukianoff. “A congressional hearing on campus censorship was an important first step. It is even more encouraging that Chairman Goodlatte is taking action to address the problem.”
In the letters, Chairman Goodlatte writes, “In FIRE’s Spotlight on Speech Codes 2015, your institution received a ‘red light’ rating. … We write to ask what steps your institution plans to take to promote free and open expression on its campus(es), including any steps toward bringing your speech policies in accordance with the First Amendment.”
No public college or university may legally maintain speech codes that violate the First Amendment rights of students or faculty.
“Students’ education suffers when colleges and universities infringe on free speech,” said Azhar Majeed, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Education Program. “FIRE is eager to help these institutions bring their policies in line with the First Amendment and welcomes opportunities to work with administrators to do so.”
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, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, 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.
Katie Barrows, Communications Coordinator, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org
Robert Shibley, Executive Director, FIRE: 215-717-3473; email@example.com
Campus leftists and campus bureaucrats are likely to whine about “Congressional interference” in higher education. But of course, they have accepted (with enthusiasm on the part of the leftists, and supinely on the part of the bureaucrats) massive intervention on the part of the Federal government, especially the Obama Justice and Education departments. Obama administration bureaucrats have aggressively moved to vitiate due process rights of males accused of sexual assault, and to broaden the doctrine of “harassment” to outlaw speech to which any intolerant and overwrought black, gay or feminist objects.
So it’s good that there is some push back here. Unfortunately, the authoritarianism of campus leftist faculty and staff, and the vested interests of campus bureaucrats are firmly aligned behind the suppression of politically incorrect speech.