FIRE Unveils New Pamphlet for Students Interested in Challenging Their College’s Speech Code

December 10, 2010

FIRE is pleased to announce the publication of our new informational pamphlet for public university students interested in serving as plaintiffs in a First Amendment challenge to their universities’ policies restricting free speech.

Our new pamphlet, "Challenging Your College’s Speech Code," answers students’ most pressing questions regarding the process of utilizing legal challenges to get speech codes removed from their campuses. The pamphlet is intended to be informational and easy to understand. We hope that it helps interested students to understand how speech codes deprive them of their basic First Amendment rights, the prevalence of speech codes on college campuses nationwide, and, most importantly, how they can take action to stand up for their fellow students’ speech rights.

With this pamphlet, FIRE hopes that students interested in pursuing speech code litigation have the answers they need to get started. For instance, in response to the question, "Why should I care about speech codes?" our pamphlet states:

Speech codes restrict your right to free speech in exactly the place where this right should be most celebrated: the college campus. Speech codes prohibit all kinds of constitutionally protected speech-everything from political statements to jokes and satire-and deaden the dialogue that should be taking place at our nation’s colleges and universities. Colleges are supposed to be engaged in a search for truth, so it’s a big problem if students can’t speak their minds on campus, explore the merits of new ideas, and search for novel ways of thinking. Moreover, speech codes teach college students that censorship, and not debate, is the proper response to speech with which one disagrees.

Typically, speech codes are aimed at expression that another person might find offensive or controversial, as well as the expression of views that are disfavored or in the minority on campus. However well-intentioned, speech codes serve to establish a strict orthodoxy of "acceptable" views and stifle the full range of expression that belongs at a university.

Our pamphlet also highlights our sterling track record when it comes to coordinating speech code litigation:

FIRE has never lost a speech code litigation case. To date, FIRE has coordinated speech code litigation at seven schools: Citrus College (California), Shippensburg University (Pennsylvania), Texas Tech University, the State University of New York at Brockport, San Francisco State University, Temple University (Pennsylvania), and Tarrant County College (Texas). In each of these challenges, the university either settled out of court by voluntarily revising its speech codes, as in the cases of Citrus College and SUNY Brockport, or was handed a legal defeat in court, as in the cases of Shippensburg, Texas Tech, San Francisco State, Temple, and Tarrant County College.

We are excited to provide this helpful guide to students interested in standing up for First Amendment rights at their universities. Hopefully, it will lead to a better understanding among students of what is at stake in these cases, and how their involvement can make all the difference on their campuses. We look forward to working with interested students as we continue to fight repressive speech codes on campuses everywhere!