Activists Still Fighting War of Free Speech on Campus

June 17, 2003

By John Elvin at Insight Magazine

Shades of the 1960s. According to an Associated Press report, students and activists on college campuses around the country are taking the institutions to court over rules they claim inhibit free speech. One focal point of the controversy is the offering of designated areas on campus where students can carry on as they like. The protesters say such rules are in effect a ban on speaking their minds anywhere else at the colleges and universities.

Another issue is the ban in effect or under consideration at some institutions that target “offensive speech.” The article notes several actions along this line. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a group seeking greater freedom for student expression, sued Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania due to its rules against attitudes or conduct that might “annoy” others. The university claimed the rules were needed to combat “unconscious attitudes toward individuals which surface through the use of discriminatory semantics.”

Also mentioned was a case involving the University of Houston where students involved in antiabortion issues were not allowed to display pictures of dead fetuses except by permission of the dean of students. A judge ruled in favor of the students. Interestingly, the issue also has surfaced at the University of California at Berkeley, where the freespeech ruckus began back in the 1960s. A general ban on “fighting words” was in place there until last year. Under new rules, hate speech is allowed so long as it is not directed at a specific person.

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Schools: Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania University of Houston Cases: Shippensburg University: Speech Code Litigation