The Eternally Radical Idea

The Eternally Radical Idea

11 Student and Faculty Victories Over Campus ‘Free Speech Zones’

September 12, 2013

This article appeared in The Huffington Post.

What is a “free speech zone?”

While the term might sound benign, free speech zones are used by our colleges and universities, our cities and towns, and sometimes even our park service rangers as a way to restrict the open expression of ideas to small areas of public property.

For example, at last year’s Republican and Democratic national party conventions, protesters and others who wished to publicly express their opinions were ushered into small, caged areas far away from convention crowds. In the past, these zones have sometimes been surrounded by barbed wire.

Free speech zones were once used to designate special areas set aside for free speech—but that didn’t imply that other areas were censorship zones. As I discuss in my book, Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate, nobody seems to know when “free speech zones” went from being an additional area where you would always enjoy free speech to the only area you could sometimes enjoy free speech.

In the latest video released by my organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), we take a look at the problem of free speech zones within the context of where they are most often abused—today’s American college campus.

The good news is that the First Amendment protects freedom of speech on public campuses—and when students and faculty fight back, whether in a real courtroom or just the court of public opinion, they usually win. Here are eleven of the most inspiring victories over campus free speech zones in recent memory.