College students do not give up their First Amendment rights as soon as they step on campus.
It seems ridiculous that anyone would expect them to do so—freedom of speech and thought should thrive at institutions of higher education. But, unfortunately, there has been a recent trend among colleges to restrict the free speech of their students and faculty.
The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is fighting for student’s right to free speech—and with much success. Here are four recent cases ADF is taking up in the battle for First-Amendment freedoms on campus.
1. University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Just this past week, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst updated their free-speech policy in light of an ADF lawsuit representing Young Americans for Liberty (YAL). ADF attorneys voluntarily dismissed the suit after the UMass Amherst Board of Trustees decided to change their policy to be more consistent with the First Amendment.
Prior to the lawsuit, UMass Amherst had a policy of restricting speeches and rallies to speech zones that made up less than 1 percent of campus. The school only opened these zones between noon and 1 p.m. during business days, which greatly limited the ability of YAL member Nicholas Consolini to rally and organize.
“Restricting free speech rights to one hour a day on less than 1 percent of campus is unconstitutional, no questions asked,” said YAL President Cliff Maloney Jr. “I applaud the UMass Board for their decision.”
2. University of California at Berkeley
ADF and YAL had a similar victory this week at the University of California at Berkeley. UC-Berkeley officially revised its Registered Student Organization policy in light of a federal lawsuit ADF attorneys filed on behalf of YAL at the end of last year.
Originally, the university had refused to recognize a chapter of YAL because it was “too similar” to another student organization: “Cal Libertarians.” ADF attorneys pointed out that there were plenty of similar student organizations with left-leaning views, like “Cal Berkeley Democrats,” “Students for Hillary at Berkeley,” and the “Progressive Student Association.”
Because YAL was not officially recognized as a Registered Student Organization based on this double standard, YAL could not reserve space, invite speakers, or have access to funds reserved for student organizations.
“By leaving decisions on whether a student group is too similar to another club in the hands of a university official with no requirement to follow any viewpoint-neutral standards, UC-Berkeley allowed for unconstitutional discrimination,” said ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton, “but these changes fix that problem.”
3. University of Minnesota at St. Paul
Last week, ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit against the University of Minnesota (UMN). ADF is representing Young America’s Foundation (YAF), Students for a Conservative Voice (SCV), and conservative author and speaker Ben Shapiro.
In February, UMN officials made it difficult for YAF and SCV to host Shapiro to speak on campus. The UMN administration used its “Large Scale Events Policy” to cap the number of attendees and relegate the event to an inconvenient venue, depriving hundreds of students of attending.
“Administrators’ discriminatory treatment of conservatives—quarantining Shapiro and a limited number of students who wished to hear his ideas to a remote area of the St. Paul Campus—was the result of administrator’s disagreement with the viewpoint of Shapiro’s speech,” said YAF Spokesman Spencer Brown.
4. Georgia Gwinnett College
When Chike Uzuegbunam wanted to share his Christian faith peacefully on campus at Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC), college officials stopped him twice. First, they told him he had to ask permission to speak three days in advance and that he could only speak in two zones that make up less than 0.0015 percent of campus.
Second, when Chike complied with these obtrusive restrictions, the college ordered him to stop speaking publicly about his faith—citing a “disorderly conduct” policy. Under this policy, students like Chike cannot say anything that “disturbs the peace and/or comfort of person(s)”—a description that could apply to almost any subject and certainly applies to a wide range of speech that the First Amendment protects.
ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit against GGC’s speech zone and speech code policies—Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski—in 2016 to fight for Chike’s right to free speech. GGC has since amended these policies, and a district court ruled that students are now allowed to speak in any outdoor area of campus.
But the court failed to address the fact that the college repeatedly silenced Chike, violating his free speech rights. So last week, ADF attorneys appealed a decision by the district court that ruled Chike’s First Amendment claims became moot after GGC changed its policy.