Report outlines limits on free speech

January 11, 2006

By Erin France at The Daily Tarheel

Some UNC-system school policies of free speech and nondiscrimination violate the U.S. Constitution, according to a report released Tuesday.

The report, created by the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, detailed First Amendment violations, including violations in UNC-Chapel Hill’s network acceptable use policy, and cites two examples of religious discrimination against student organizations.

In 2002, the University asked the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship to remove from its charter a provision requiring members to be Christians. And in 2003, the UNC-CH refused to recognize Christian fraternity Alpha Iota Omega after it refused to sign the University’s nondiscrimination policy.

Other UNC-system schools have rules against vulgar or profane speech and are in direct violation of the Constitution, said Samantha Harris, a program associate for FIRE.

“There’s a lot of intolerant speech that does not violate the First Amendment,” she said.

Melissa Exum, associate vice chancellor and the dean of students at UNC-CH, said she is not aware of any limits that the school places on student speech.

“We are committed to the principles of free speech,” she said. “We do not restrict the freedom of speech in any way.”

Exum said the University’s policies are not in conflict with the First Amendment.

Greg Lukianoff, interim president of FIRE, said many other UNC-system schools could be sued on First Amendment grounds.

“You could get sued, and you would lose,” he said.

He stressed that FIRE is not a litigation organization and will not sue any or all of the system schools, but the universities should heed its advice and modify their policies.

“I feel like we’re doing the UNC system a favor,” he said.

The report named 10 schools whose policies it found vulnerable to lawsuit based on legal precedent. UNC-CH was not one of the schools named, despite criticism of the University’s policies within the report.

Lukianoff said overbearing policies regarding discrimination or sexual harassment could be in response to a university’s fear of lawsuits from students.

“Now there is a cost for prohibiting free speech,” he said.

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Schools: University of North Carolina – Wilmington University of North Carolina – Greensboro University of North Carolina – Pembroke University of North Carolina – Charlotte University of North Carolina School of the Arts Cases: University of North Carolina System: State of the First Amendment