Lawmaker Presses Colleges to Update Free Speech Codes

August 14, 2015

By Lydia Wheeler at The Hill

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee has asked 162 public colleges and universities to update their free speech codes.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) sent letters to the schools on Friday following The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s (FIRE) report, which found that 55 percent of 437 schools surveyed maintain severely restrictive “red light” speech codes.

FIRE said a red light institution is one that has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech or that bars public access to its speech-related policies by requiring a university login and password for access.
“When a university restricts access to its speech-related policies by requiring a login and password, it denies prospective students and their parents the ability to weigh this crucial information prior to matriculation,” the student rights advocacy group said in its report. “At FIRE, we consider this denial to be so deceptive and serious that it alone warrants a red light rating.”

Colleges given red light ratings include Boston University, Harvard University, Columbia University and Georgetown University.

Goodlatte asked the schools what steps they plan to take to promote free and open expression on their campuses and bring speech policies in line with the First Amendment.

“The First Amendment states: ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble …’ yet despite these constitutional protections, speech-restrictive policies in our nation’s public colleges and universities remain,” Goodlatte’s letter said.