Oregon Community College Drops Free Speech Zone

By on January 31, 2012

Last week, Chemeketa Community College (CCC) in Salem, Oregon, made significant changes to its "Free Speech Guidelines" and "Student Rights and Responsibilities Policy," which now allow students to spontaneously gather on campus. The revisions have done away with previous restrictions on constitutionally protected speech, as reported by the Alliance Defense Fund.

The flaws in the policies were brought into the public eye when, in October 2010, a student distributing pro-life literature was told he needed permission from campus officials to share his message. If approved by the administration, the student could then reserve the campus’ "free speech zone"—space for a six-foot folding table and two chairs—to distribute literature. Students were required to give one week’s notice to reserve the space, and could only reserve it twice per semester. An officer also told the student he could not wear his T-shirt, which expressed a pro-life sentiment.

Under the new policies, which were put into place after pressure from the Alliance Defense Fund, students may still reserve the table in the free speech zone, but may also speak elsewhere on campus spontaneously and without prior approval. The college also eliminated a speech code that banned "offensive" or "derogatory" speech.

Robust and open debate can only happen when students are free to express thoughts on campus—"politically incorrect" or not. Indeed, some of our most valuable learning can come from being confronted with ideas we find offensive. Moreover, free speech zone policies are a pernicious threat to the free exchange of ideas, as we have documented over and over. FIRE applauds CCC’s decision to change these restrictive policies, and hopes that students will continue to engage each other in discussion on a wide range of topics.