Legal Intern Jessica Sleete Describes Working with FIRE to Protect Students’ Freedoms

By September 8, 2006

Over the last few days we have introduced Torch readers to the incredible summer legal interns we had the honor of working with this summer. The final member of our legal intern triumvirate was Jessica Sleete, a second-year law student at the University of Baltimore School of Law. Here she explains how her legal internship at FIRE allowed her to learn about a variety of crucial issues concerning students’ rights on college campuses:

While interning at FIRE, I was afforded the opportunity to study an assortment of First Amendment issues affecting the realm of higher education. I am deeply grateful that one of these was the selective repression of religious liberty on campuses, as I am passionate about this issue. In contradiction with academic freedom and freedom of conscience, the right of religious student organizations to express and associate on the basis of their beliefs is under attack. Disturbingly, “nondiscrimination” policies much too often disregard the inalienable right of religious groups to use faith-based principles in determining their missions. In addition, I have learned that such policies discriminate against the message of religious organizations and subsequently deny them official recognition, funding from student fees, and equal access to open facilities. The commitment of FIRE to defend students against the abuse of their fundamental right to the free exercise of religion has been an inspiration and encouragement to me.
 
Along with becoming familiar with FIRE’s cases regarding religious liberty, I researched restrictive speech codes adopted by both public and private colleges and universities. Prior to interning for FIRE, I was unaware of the pervasive violation of students’ right to free speech and expression occurring across America’s most respected campuses through “harassment” policies. It was disheartening to learn that these policies have trivialized the seriousness of the offense and have instead led students to assume that they have a right not to be teased, aggravated, or disgusted. While reviewing FIRE’s past cases and writing letters regarding unconstitutional, overbroad policies, I realized that no longer is harassment on campuses identified as severe, persistent, pervasive, or threatening. Instead, merely hurting someone’s feelings with a joke or negative comment now constitutes harassment, thus hindering the marketplace of ideas by causing students to censor their dialogue.
 
I am deeply grateful that as a FIRE legal intern, I have been exposed to scores of cases involving the abuse of college and university students’ fundamental rights and am now informed and equipped to help defend and preserve the freedoms of conscience, due process, religious liberty, and speech that are currently threatened in institutions of higher education.

FIRE’s legal internship program is only possible thanks to the generous support of individual donors from across the country. If you would like to help support FIRE and its efforts to recruit and train the future defenders of liberty on campus, please click here.