Free speech week — restricted speech becoming more common across college campuses

Free speech week — restricted speech becoming more common across college campuses
© Getty Images

Next week marks the beginning of Free Speech week, an annual public event designed to “raise public awareness of the importance of free speech in our democracy- and to celebrate that freedom.”

The issue of free speech is a contested topic that has grabbed the attention of everyone from school administrators to the attorney general. Last month, at an event for Georgetown University, Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsPress: Ukraine's not the only outrage To understand death behind bars, we need more information White House backs Stephen Miller amid white nationalist allegations MORE discussed the issue of free speech on college campuses, citing two examples of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) activists advocating for free speech on campus and being met with opposition from their university's — Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Mich. and Los Angeles Pierce in Los Angeles, Cali.

ADVERTISEMENT
These two public, taxpayer funded institutions prohibited students from distributing pocket Constitutions. These students were attempting to raise awareness about unconstitutional free speech policies, and clearly their efforts were not without merit.

 

In September of last year, Young American for Liberty (YAL) students at Kellogg Community College (KCC) were peacefully distributing pocket-sized copies of the U.S. Constitution's to their peers.

They were not blocking or impeding any campus activity, yet KCC campus officials approached them and claimed they were violating the Solicitation Policy because they had not obtained prior permission from KCC. “When the young people bravely refused to stop [passing out Constitutions], citing their right to free speech, the local officer had them handcuffed and jailed,” said Sessions.

At Los Angeles Pierce College, a student was attempting to distribute copies of the U.S. Constitution and recruit new members for their YAL chapter when he was approached by a Pierce administrator who told him that “literature” could not be distributed outside the designated free speech zone.

This sanctioned area for freedom of expression consisted of a tiny plot of land measuring approximately 616 square feet and comprising about .003 percent of the total area of Pierce College’s 426-acre campus.

According to Sessions, “These cramped zones are eerily similar to what the Supreme Court warned against in the seminal 1969 Tinker v. Des Moines case about student speech, "Freedom of expression would not truly exist if the right could be exercised only in an area that a benevolent government has provided as a safe haven.”

These instances of administration unconstitutionally restricting free speech are not limited to a handful of schools. At Arkansas Tech University last year, a YAL student leader was told that he could not have a free speech ball outside of the free speech zone on campus. “At Arkansas Tech University, that is the way things work. Free Speech Zones trump the Constitution,” said a university official.

These frequent instances of restricted free speech and unconstitutional speech codes on campuses have raised serious questions about the role of free expression in academia. Once a place of “robust debate,” America’s public universities have become, “an echo chamber of political correctness and homogenous thought, a shelter for fragile egos,” said Sessions. Differing opinions are stifled and restricted to free speech zones as students struggle to express their opinions.

Free speech zones and areas of restricted free speech are becoming increasingly common across college campuses. These zones are intended to restrict First-Amendment-protected activity such as passing out copies of the Constitution or peacefully protesting. At YAL, we are leading the fight to protect the First Amendment rights of college students through our National Fight for Free Speech campaign.

Since its implementation, our national Fight for Free Speech has reformed 28 unconstitutional speech codes on campuses across the country, restoring First Amendment rights for more than 590,000 students.

YAL will continue to lead the charge to ensure that our First Amendment rights remain protected on all college campuses, and we are thrilled to have Attorney General Sessions showcasing our efforts and shedding light on this important issue.

Cliff Maloney Jr. is the President of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), a non-profit, youth organization based in Arlington, Va. that boasts over 900 college chapters across the United States. YAL’s mission is to identify, educate, train, and mobilize youth activists committed to winning on principle. Learn more about YAL at www.yaliberty.org.