NOTE: The article excerpted on this page is from an outside publication and is posted on FIRE's website because it references FIRE's work. The viewpoints expressed in this article do not necessarily represent FIRE's positions.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s "Guide to Free Speech on Campus" is a welcome tool for any student or faculty member who is living in the ever-so tense and sensitive world of a college or university campus. The guide is helpful in outlining the gray area that is known as freedom of speech and how to combat the suppression of First Amendment rights. Free speech is a fundamental building block of America, but the guide helps ask and answer the question, "What constitutes free speech and what doesn’t?"
Interestingly enough, the Supreme Court did not outline free speech guidelines at universities for a long time, and until incidents in high schools arose, it was not an important issue. Additionally, public universities should be more open to free speech and all its forms on campus. Private universities have a loophole of sorts, if they have their own free speech code and students, prior to admittance, are notified of it and sign an agreement to it. Those universities that receive public funds should have a semblance of free speech on their campuses, whether they are public or private universities. Though FIRE does not detail how many universities have free speech codes, free speech zones (designated areas for distributing flyers, etc.) and the like, it shows the constitutionality (and unconstitutionality) of these practices and how to combat university action.
The guide also provides steps to take in order to avoid administrative action, such as when university officials try to push other opinions by threatening an investigation or preventing distribution of handouts in a non-free speech zone (if it exists on campus). By knowing your university’s free speech policies, and the background that the guide provides via court decisions and recent events, a normal student or faculty member can protect his right to free speech. This guide is a detailed, useful and practical tool to prevent bad things from happening to innocent people. It also outlines examples of past situations regarding free speech and how to address these types of situations, such as being accused of inviting a speaker who promotes hate speech. This guide is written for those who deeply care about free speech on campus, and is not light but rather serious reading.
In the end, most if not all Americans should read FIRE’s free speech guide. Parents, future college students and especially current college students and faculty should read this guide to free speech in order to avoid unwarranted and unnecessary harassment and prosecution. All should be aware of the potential abuses of free speech on college campuses and the problems that university prosecution can bring. Being armed with more knowledge about free speech ensures that it will not be abused as much by colleges, but will thrive as students and faculty exercise their First Amendment rights.