Colleges are restricting free speech on campus, lawmakers say

Colleges are restricting free speech on campus, lawmakers say
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In protecting students from harassment and discrimination, lawmakers and experts say public colleges and universities are violating students’ right to free speech on college campuses.

During a House Judiciary Constitution and Civil Justice Subcommittee Hearing on First Amendment protections on public college and university campuses, Greg Lukianoff, president and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), said one in six universities maintain free speech zones – small, out-of-the-way areas where they can hold rallies, demonstrations, distribute literature, circulate petitions and give speeches.

“In a lot of these cases they are free speech zones that you have to apply 10 days in advance to use,” he said.


Other campuses, Lakianoff said have speech codes that flat out ban free speech.

According to the Department of Education, about 21 million students were expected to attend a college or university in 2014 and according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 70 percent of high school graduated in 2014 were enrolled in college s or universities.

As more and more young people got to college, Goodlatte asked how campus policies regulating speech will effect them.

“Policies that limit free speech limit the expression of ideas,” House Judiciary Chair Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteFight breaks out between Jordan, Nadler over rules about showing video at Garland hearing The job of shielding journalists is not finished Bottom line MORE (R-Va.) said. “And no one ­– no one ­­– can be confident in their own ideas unless those ideas are constantly tested through exposure to the widest variety of opposing arguments. This is especially crucial in democracy. 

Lukianoff said Congress should enact an Anti-harassment Act that provides a clear definition of harassment, eliminating the need for speech codes.

But Wendy Kaminer, an attorney and member of the Massachusetts State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, said Congress should be wary of enacting bad laws in response to hard and heart-wrenching cases involving “bad” speech.

“Freedom of speech is freedom from government interference,” she said.  

She instead advised the subcommittee members to monitor the Department of Education's regulatory activity. Overbroad definitions of harassment and retaliation, she said, can obliterate academic freedom and, at public universities, ignore the constitutional rights of students and faculty.