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Here’s How University Officials Are Stripping Students of Their 1st Amendment Rights

There’s an epidemic on public university campuses across the country.

We’ve all seen it – or at least heard about it.

Violent protestors and angry mobs attacking professors and blocking entrance to speaking events. Bias Response Teams (aka campus “speech police”) who investigate claims of “offensive speech” by students and faculty. Universities cutting off social media access for student groups who dare criticize their policies. Students being arrested on campus for handing out copies of the Constitution. The creation and rise of “safe spaces.”

It has become so ridiculous, that it tends toward the comical. 

But really, it’s no laughing matter. That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom submitted a letter to the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, who heard testimony Tuesday regarding “First Amendment Protections on Public College and University Campuses.”

University officials are teaching their students that the First Amendment doesn’t matter – that government bureaucrats can take away those rights whenever they want.

I hate to break it to them, but that’s not how the Constitution works.

Yet universities across the country have implemented policies designed to limit free speech – policies that we have seen disproportionately applied to conservative and Christian student groups. These policies include:

1. Speech Zone Policies

Many universities limit “free speech” activities to a small, out-of-the-way area of campus. On top of that, students are required to receive permission to use these speech zones. We are currently defending a student at Georgia Gwinnett College who was told he could only tell others about his faith in a speech zone that made up 0.0015% of campus.

2. Harassment and Non-Discrimination Policies

Universities often put in place vague harassment and non-discrimination policies. Until a few days ago, Iowa State University, for example, included in its harassment policy that even activities protected by the First Amendment could be considered “harassment.” The University only changed its policies after ADF filed a lawsuit  on behalf of a student who faced a hold on his graduation unless he agreed to sign away his free speech rights. 

3. Policies That Give Administrators Unchecked Power to Suppress Speech

University speech policies often give broad discretion to university officials to determine when they can burden speech, such as imposing a security fee or denying funding for a speaking event. Without neutral criteria to determine which events or groups are allowed on campus without imposing other burdens, university officials can abuse this power and use it to discriminate against viewpoints they don’t like. At Colorado State University, a pro-life student group was denied funding to bring in a speaker simply because university officials disliked their viewpoint. And at Queens College in New York, a pro-life student group was denied recognition by the university without any reason given because the policy there grants complete discretion to discriminate against disfavored viewpoints.

4. Policies That Limit Freedom of Association

Some universities have enacted policies that state student groups must accept members and leaders that do not agree with their mission. That means the College Democrats must accept Republicans as members or even leaders. If a group cannot control who speaks for it, the right to speak means very little.

5. Student Activity Fee Policies

Many students have to pay into the student activities fee when they begin attending school. These fees are set aside to be distributed to student groups on campus. While every student pays these fees, the committee distributing the funds can decide which groups to fund and which not to fund, which means less popular views are not funded, even though those students pay the same mandatory dues as everyone else, and their fees are distributed to groups who they might disagree with.

Alliance Defending Freedom’s Center for Academic Freedom works to ensure that policies like these do not continue to restrict student speech on campus. As a leading organization litigating university student free speech cases, we are dedicated to ensuring freedom of speech and association for students and faculty so that everyone can freely participate in the marketplace of ideas without fear of government censorship.

To learn more about how we are defending the First Amendment on campus, visit the link below.

Learn More

Sarah Kramer

Digital Content Specialist

Sarah worked as an investigative reporter before joining the Alliance Defending Freedom team.

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