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University of Minnesota Medical School swears off compelled speech in white coat ceremony
Less than a week after FIRE raised concerns about compelled speech at the University of Minnesota Medical School, the university assured us no student would face repercussions for refusing to say a political oath at its white coat ceremony.
FIRE commends UMMS for taking its students’ First Amendment rights seriously.
A video of a UMMS white coat ceremony showed an administrator leading students in reciting a version of the Hippocratic oath that requires students to commit to contested political viewpoints. The university’s version of the oath had UMMS students commit to “uprooting the legacy and perpetuation of structural violence deeply embedded within the healthcare system,” “promot[e] a culture of anti-racism,” “embody cultural humility,” and “advance health equity,” among other viewpoints.
UMMS assured FIRE that students “who decline to participate in the oath are free to do so without pressure or repercussion.”
In the video, students at UMMS appeared to be required to take the oath as a condition of continuing their education at the university.
In FIRE’s Oct. 13 letter to UMMS, we explained how the university may not require students to pledge allegiance to contested political viewpoints. The First Amendment protects the right to speak and not to speak. Compelling students to profess views they do not believe — especially when divorced from any academic exercise — is antithetical to free speech and the purpose of educational institutions. As the Supreme Court proclaimed when finding that school children cannot be compelled to stand and salute the U.S. flag:
If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.
Thankfully, the senior associate general counsel at UMMS assured FIRE that students “who decline to participate in the oath are free to do so without pressure or repercussion.” We’re glad to hear the university clarify that “[f]irst-year medical students are not required to recite the oath or participate in it in any way, and their progress in medical school does not depend on the recitation of the oath.”
This is a welcome result at a public medical school bound by the First Amendment. FIRE appreciates the prompt reply, and we’re sure students appreciate knowing that their school will protect their expressive rights.
FIRE defends students and faculty — regardless of their views. Are you a medical student required to recite an oath or pledge you don’t agree with? We’d like to hear from you. Go to thefire.org/alarm to tell us more.
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