UT Must do More to Protect Free Speech on Campus

By October 25, 2015

By Robert L. Shibley at The Blade

University of Toledo students returned to campus this fall with their First Amendment rights better protected. After UT police officers prevented students from peacefully protesting a campus appearance by Republican political consultant Karl Rove last year, the university adopted an “expression on campus” policy over the summer that aims to prevent similar problems.

But UT still has work to do to eliminate all of its unconstitutional speech policies, and to avoid potential lawsuits.

The new policy stems from an incident at Mr. Rove’s UT speech in September, 2014. A group of students and community members wanted to stand at the back of the lecture hall, handing out literature to attendees and holding posters protesting the foreign policy of the George W. Bush administration.

When the protesters sought to enter the event, two campus officers blocked their entry and implied they could be arrested. They did not cite any campus policy or law to support their claims.

Recognizing that their rights had been curtailed, the students contacted my organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). Together, FIRE and the ADC worked with UT officials to craft a new policy to prevent this from happening again.

UT should be applauded for taking this step toward respecting student rights. However, the university still has two policies on its books that clearly violate the constitutional rights of its students.

UT’s policy on “sexual harassment and other forms of harassment” prohibits any verbal conduct of an “offensive” nature, including “offensive statements, insults, epithets, or jokes.” It bars “using any form of communication to insult, demean, or threaten another individual.”

There is no basis in American law to ban any and all jokes or other statements that students might find offensive. The government — and UT is a government agency — can’t punish you for merely reciting jokes from, say, Amy Schumer’s latest stand-up comedy routine.

The university’s other flatly unconstitutional policy concerns “damage, disturbance, and distress” in residential living. Examples of behavior explicitly prohibited under this policy include displaying materials of a “sexist, racist, [or] homophobic” nature.

While these categories of speech are unpleasant to some or even most people, they are fully protected under the First Amendment. The framers of our Constitution knew that politicians and bureaucrats could not be trusted to decide what opinions may be expressed.

Is opposition to same-sex marriage homophobic, and must such opposition therefore be banned? Are opponents of unisex bathrooms too sexist to be allowed in dormitories? What about opposition to illegal immigration, a huge issue in the presidential campaign?

College is a time for students to test their beliefs and values, not to be told what they must believe. If students fear being punished for freely expressing their opinions on campus, their opportunity for a truly liberal education will be wasted.

UT students deserve better.
Read more at http://www.toledoblade.com/Opinion/2015/10/25/UT-must-do-more-to-protect-free-speech-on-campus.html#eZjBqlCYX09YQ0B3.99

Schools: University of Toledo