Students’ Right to Partisan Speech

By October 26, 2006

With Election Day only a couple of weeks away, many politically-oriented student groups will be inviting their parties’ respective candidates to campus, if they haven’t already. Some universities may claim that student groups cannot invite speakers to campus, since the school has an interest in political neutrality. Pennsylvania’s Lafayette College recently committed just such an offense against free political expression. Yet, as students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate, students’ partisan political speech does not enjoy less protection than other types of speech on campus—in fact, it’s hard to deny that political speech is precisely the type of speech the First Amendment was designed to protect. FIRE’s statement on the censorship of partisan speech, issued around the time of the 2004 election, addresses this issue: 

While various state and federal laws prevent public and private university officials from explicitly campaigning for or against candidates on university time or through the use of university resources, not all speech regarding a political candidate is considered unacceptable "partisan" campaigning. The U.S. Constitution puts profound limits on the ability of public university administrators to suppress student-sponsored speech, even if that speech explicitly and purposefully endorses a political candidate. 

To understand the full breadth of students’ rights to partisan speech, read the rest of FIRE’s statement here.

Schools: Lafayette College