The Academic Campaign Against Free Speech

October 4, 2014

By Frank Vernuccio at

From one end of the nation to the other, the most fundamental portion of the Bill of Rights, the right to freedom of speech and assembly, is under persistent, sustained, and serious attack at our academic institutions.

The particular targets of this assault tend to be those students who express traditional beliefs in patriotism, faith, and liberty. Systematic methods are employed by colleges to restrict First Amendment rights. These include:

Restricting free speech in all but so-called “free speech zones,” which are tightly regulated. In practice, many of the concepts that tend to be forced out of the general campus and limited to these thought ghettos are right of center.

One example: Breitbart reports that at Penn State, where only 12 small spaces on the 8,500 acre campus are available to express free thought, student members of the Young Americans for Freedom organization were told to remove a table bearing their literature.

Restricting the concept of freedom of assembly. The Wall Street Journal noted that “the California State University System ‘derecognized’ 23 campus chapters of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship” because membership was restricted to Christians. Similarly, as revealed in a Bloomberg article, Wesleyan University has mandated that fraternities must admit females.

The paper has also revealed that Chancellor Nicolas Dirks of the University of California at Berkley, (ironically, the home of the Free Speech Movement in the ‘60’s) believes free speech can cause “division and divisiveness that undermine a community’s foundation” and could threaten the “delicate balance between communal interests.”

Pressure on speaker selections. University officials have pressured student groups to “disinvite” certain speakers selected to address student organizations. New York’s Fordham University pressured its student Republican Club to cancel its invitation to conservative columnist Ann Coulter.

Last month, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education sent a certified mailing to America’s 300 largest and most prestigious public colleges and universities noting that “they risk First Amendment lawsuits by continuing to maintain speech codes that violate student and faculty rights.” The letters were mailed from the main post office near Independence Hall in Philadelphia to mark the 227th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution.

The problem isn’t restricted to colleges. Some high schools have forced students wearing clothing that they consider “political” to change their appearance. This includes students wearing American flag-themed T-shirts on Cinco de Mayo. Items expressing support for the Second Amendment have also been the subject of disciplinary action.

At the grammar school level, absurd restrictions extend even to lunch room behavior such as sharing food. An summary quotes an ABC 7 report that in Weaverville, Calif. The local school board has banned sharing food.

These are only a few of the many examples. Throughout academia, the prevailing orthodoxy has sought to stop reasonable discussion by imposing restrictions on students—and on teaching staff—with differing views, or with the intellectual curiosity to intelligently explore the reasoning and factual basis of the ruling institutional biases.

Cases: FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project