Azhar Majeed’s Simple Message to College Administrators: End Censorship, or Else

September 3, 2014

My colleague Azhar Majeed, Director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Education Program, published an op-ed in The Huffington Post yesterday with an important back-to-school message for college administrators: Eliminate speech codes, or get ready to head to court.

Reminding readers of the outcome of the now-infamous Constitution Day case at Modesto Junior College, in which the college “agreed to eliminate a horrendous and unconstitutional ‘free speech zone’ policy, open up the public areas of its campus to expressive activity, and pay $50,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs” after facing a First Amendment suit from a student, Azhar writes:

[T]his settlement reinforces the principles behind the Stand Up For Speech project and should send a message to every public college and university that maintains a similar free speech zone policy or otherwise unconstitutional speech code. These institutions should be more than a little concerned about being sued in federal court, having to pay attorneys’ fees and other legal costs, and ultimately being forced to revise the very policies they should have scrapped in the first place.

Institutions wishing to avoid the legal repercussions of unconstitutional censorship have an alternative, one that is much more pleasant and far less expensive. As Azhar writes:

Of course, colleges don’t have to go the difficult route. My colleagues at FIRE and I are more than happy to work proactively with university administrations on their speech codes and to improve those policies to meet constitutional standards. Not only that, our expertise is available completely free of charge.

It’s true. Just last month, the University of Florida worked with FIRE to eliminate its speech codes, earning the university extensive praise in a national press release from FIRE. UF didn’t have to see the inside of a courtroom to do the right thing. Nor does any other school.

Azhar urges college administrators to ask themselves a simple question as students return to campus: “Would I rather be praised in a national press release or named as a defendant in a federal lawsuit? The answer seems simple, doesn’t it?”

Indeed it does. Read the whole piece over at The Huffington Post.

Schools:  University of Florida Modesto Junior College

Cases:  FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project Modesto Junior College: Students Barred from Distributing Constitutions on Constitution Day