American Bar Association urges college campuses to protect ‘freedom and debate protected by the First Amendment’

August 28, 2019

At its annual meeting earlier this month, the American Bar Association adopted a resolution that urges “all private and public universities and colleges to adopt” certain principles “in furtherance of free expression on university and college campuses.”

The ABA’s resolution echoes the “Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression” issued by the University of Chicago in 2015 and commonly known as the “Chicago Statement.” The resolution reads in full: 

RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges all private and public universities and colleges to adopt the following principles in furtherance of free expression on university and college campuses: 

  1. Universities and colleges have a responsibility to promote freedom of debate and thought, and to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it;
  2. Except as necessary to comply with reasonable administrative rules applied on a content-neutral basis, universities and colleges should not restrict freedom of  speech and debate protected by the First Amendment; and
  3. Universities and colleges should protect all members of their communities and all speakers on their campuses and other locations from censorship, intimidation or retaliation on the basis of their opinions or beliefs.

We applaud the ABA for taking a position in support of faculty and student free speech rights. And we urge campus administrators to take this opportunity to adopt policy statements similar to that encouraged by the ABA resolution (including the Chicago Statement), and to revise their existing speech codes to be consistent with the First Amendment. Of course, FIRE stands ready to assist universities as they craft or review their speech policies, and to do so pro bono.