FIRE, ADF addressing nationwide epidemic on college campuses

May 15, 2013

Robert Shibley of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) says Troy University’s policy on preventing harassment and discrimination prohibits a staggering amount of constitutionally-protected speech. His organization, which aims to defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities, has sent a letter of concern to school officials.

"Troy says that they ban ‘any comments or conduct consisting of words or actions that are unwelcome or offensive to a person in relation to sex, race, age, religion, national origin, color,’ etc. — a long list of characteristics," Shibley details. "The problem with that is that it bans a lot of what is very normal political speech in the United States."
 
Though he is unaware of any specific problems or incidents this policy has brought about, FIRE’s senior vice president says the code is still problematic.

"Part of the problem with these policies is that even when there is no problem on campus that pops up, they chill student speech about these important issues," he explains. "Students in college are adults. They’re supposed to be participating in the political process, and this sort of policy only makes that harder rather than easier."

Shibley adds that because Troy is a public university, it is bound to uphold the students’ First Amendment rights. So far, the Foundation has not received a response from Troy.

But an Iowa community college has relented and revised its unconstitutional student speech code, thanks to a lawsuit filed by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on behalf of a student.

ADF attorney David Hacker says Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) was barring student Jacob Dagel from freely handing out flyers protesting the use of college funds to subsidize a governor’s lesbian, "gay," bisexual and transgender youth conference.
 
"They required student to get permission ten days in advance of doing anything on campus, and then once they got that permission, they could only speak or hand out flyers or papers to their peers if they sat at a table in the student center," Hacker details. "It’s a really restrictive policy and one that was clearly unconstitutional."
 
But the attorney asserts that this is not an isolated incident; it is part of a nationwide epidemic.

"These are policies that have been written more recently with an eye towards creating some sort of campus utopia, and unfortunately, that never shapes out well for Christians and conservatives on campus," Hacker laments. "They end up having their rights restricted, while everyone else can speak freely and without much restraint."

DMACC agreed to a permanent injunction against its bad speech policies while the settlement in the case was finalized.

Cases: Departments of Education and Justice: National “Blueprint” for Unconstitutional Speech Codes