Issues

By October 15, 2004

Due Process

The rights of all Americans can be secured only through the establishment of fair processes and with a consciousness that all are equal in the eyes of the law. Yet on many campuses, the unfortunate accused face "kangaroo courts" without fair procedures, in which the political viewpoint of the "judges" greatly affect the outcome of trials. The accused are often charged with no specific offense, given no right to face their accusers, and sentenced with no regard for fairness or consistency. The FIRE cases listed below illustrate our fight for fundamental fairness on our nation’s campuses. This generation of students must come to know that justice means more than merely the enforcement of the will of the powerful and the suppression of the views of the powerless.

Free Speech

Freedom of speech is a fundamental American freedom, and nowhere should it be more valued and protected than at America’s colleges and universities. The "marketplace of ideas" upon which a university depends for its intellectual vitality cannot flourish when students or faculty members must fear punishment for expressing views that might be unpopular with the public at large or disfavored by university administrators. Yet this freedom is under continuous assault at many of America’s campuses. Speech codes dictating what may or may not be said, "free speech zones" confining free speech to a certain area of campus, and administrative attempts to punish or repress speech on a case-by-case basis are common today in academia. FIRE’s public cases dealing with freedom of speech, listed below, demonstrate our commitment to restoring and preserving this basic freedom on our nation’s campuses. The future of a generation of students — and of liberal education itself — depends on our success.

Freedom of Conscience

Liberty cannot exist in a society in which people are forced to conform their thoughts and expression to an official viewpoint. Differences of opinion are the natural byproducts of a vibrant, free society. At many of our nation’s colleges and universities, however, students are expected to share a single viewpoint on controversial matters like the meaning of diversity, the particulars of racism, and the impermissibility of "hate speech." Mandatory "diversity training," in which students are instructed in an officially-approved ideology, is commonplace. Some institutions have enacted policies that require students to speak and even share identical attitudes on these matters or face disciplinary charges. The FIRE cases listed below showcase our efforts to roll back this unprecedented intrusion into students’ freedom of conscience and ensure that students are given the right to make up their own minds on the issues of the day — without administrative coercion.

Religious Liberty

Religious liberty is a cornerstone of our nation and is the very first freedom guaranteed to Americans by the Bill of Rights. Yet on many college and university campuses, the right to associate on the basis of religious belief—and even the right to express those beliefs—is under attack. Under the guise of "nondiscrimination" policies, religious groups are often told that they may not choose the membership or leadership of their groups based on religious criteria. Other students who merely express religious beliefs in public are condemned for "hate speech" or "intolerance." FIRE’s public cases dealing with religious liberty, listed below, display our commitment to defending America’s religious pluralism by protecting students’ rights to express their views and to associate based upon shared beliefs.