Liberty on Campus in 2008: FIRE’s Year in Review

By on December 30, 2008

PHILADELPHIA, December 30, 2008While restrictions on freedom of speech and other First Amendment rights once again abounded on America’s campuses in 2008, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) enlisted more students and faculty members than ever in its fight against campus censorship. Thanks to this groundswell of support, FIRE secured essential victories for freedom of speech and against limits on political activismboth on our nation’s campuses and in courts of law.

"In 2008, FIRE made significant progress in protecting individual rights, fighting double standards, and turning back the tide of repression on campus," FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. "FIRE is heading into 2009 better equipped than ever to fight and win battles for civil liberties and fundamental fairness at America’s colleges and universities."

FIRE won many victories for freedom of speech, religious liberty, freedom of association, and freedom of conscience throughout 2008, including key legal victories for student rights on campus. These successes included:

Free speech on campus also gained a major legal victory when the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled in DeJohn v. Temple University that Temple University’s former speech code was unconstitutional. FIRE, which wrote an amicus brief in the case, now has alerted hundreds of schools that they maintain similar speech codes at their legal peril. Between this decision and the legal victory against the speech codes of the California State University System last year, practically no college administrator can claim ignorance of the law.

In addition, under legal pressure, Shippensburg University agreed for the second time to dismantle an unconstitutional speech code that was originally eliminated four years ago in a suit brought by FIRE Legal Network attorneys.

"It is time for public college and university administrators to heed the clear message that the courts have been sending for nearly twenty years now: free speech on campus is not optional," William Creeley, FIRE’s Director of Legal and Public Advocacy, said.

FIRE also dramatically expanded its education programs to inform the public about violations of students’ and faculty members’ individual rights on campus by:

FIRE also informs prospective students and their parents about threats to rights on campus through Spotlight: The Campus Freedom Resource, a database with information on speech codes at over 400 colleges and universities, and through the Red Alert list of campuses that represent the "worst of the worst" when it comes to liberty on campus. Michigan State University (MSU) recently joined Brandeis University, Colorado College, Johns Hopkins University, and Tufts University on this list of shame.

Heading into the New Year, FIRE will fight to achieve justice for MSU student leader Kara Spencer, who was found guilty of "spamming" after she e-mailed faculty about MSU policy changes. FIRE also will redouble its efforts to restore liberty at two colleges in Texas: Tarrant County College, where an empty gun holster protest was prohibited, and Lone Star College, where even the mention of the word "gun" on a flyer has been censored.

"Many administrators across the country still think they can bully students into submission," Creeley said. "But FIRE will continue to vigorously defend campus rights in 2009."

CONTACT:
William Creeley, Director of Legal and Public Advocacy, FIRE: 212-582-3191; will@thefire.org