The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), a nonprofit dedicated to promoting “freedom of thought, inquiry and expression,” recently issued a list of the greatest threats to free speech in 2015. It’s well worth perusing, as it provides an important reminder that censorship comes in a disturbing number of forms. Included in NCAC’s list was the embarrassing charade of “free speech zones,” tiny areas of campus where university administrators try to quarantine student speech to limit its impact, and included them on its list of threats. As NCAC aptly put it:
One way to keep a lid on free speech is to tell citizens that they have First Amendment rights—sort of. A student at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona was prevented by campus police from handing out animal rights flyers because he hadn’t obtained the appropriate “badge” to participate in the school’s free speech zone. He filed suit with the help of FIRE (The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), and in July the school settled. Similar examples, on campus and off, demonstrate that this remains a contested free speech issue.
We appreciate NCAC’s recognition of the courage of that student, Nicolas Tomas, who got tired of uniformed police officers stopping him from expressing his views and so became a plaintiff in FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project to vindicate his First Amendment rights.
The good news is that Nick is not alone. In addition to NCAC’s “worst threats” list, check out its list of “Free Speech Heroes,” which includes a shout-out to the University of Chicago’s Committee on Freedom of Expression for its statement of principles and to the other universities that have adopted it.