Letter: Misreading Of First Amendment All Too Common

March 19, 2015

Editorial at Times-Standard

Misreading of First Amendment all too common

Nat Hentoff’s free speech column (“How worried are you about free speech?”, Times-Standard, March 15, Page A4) raises a common misconception. The First Amendment does not protect free speech rights for all Americans. It is a restriction on the federal government, barring it from enacting any infringement on freedom of speech, a ban the Supreme Court has found applicable to state governments as well, including presumably state schools.

Hentoff wrote in support of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), in its suit against Dixie College over its restrictions on student speech. Restrictions on speech by colleges are, he claims, both common and unconstitutional. All the schools he names are, I’d guess, state institutions, so subject to the First Amendment, except Brandeis University. Brandeis is a private college so, like you and me, not subject to the First Amendment ban.

Making the First Amendment apply to any school financially benefiting from government is a controversial idea, and not current law, leaving the gap between government and the private world substantially untouched. (Brandeis might have committed itself by contract to observe such restrictions — a different matter.)