As always, summer has flown by and it’s time to start thinking about the fall semester. Constitution Day, September 17, is a great opportunity to celebrate First Amendment rights on public college campuses—and to remind private college administrators that a free and robust exchange of ideas is the foundation of a meaningful education.
The simplest way to mark the occasion is to hand out “pocket” Constitutions to fellow students because, as Thomas Jefferson put it, “It is every American’s right and obligation to read and interpret the Constitution for himself.” And thanks to FIRE, you don’t need a Jefferson-era printing press to do it. FIRE’s pocket-sized “student edition” Constitutions—recently featured in The New York Times—are available FREE to you! All you have to do is ask.
Just fill out this online form and tell us how many copies you need and how you plan to use them on your campus. Be sure to let us know soon, as we need at least two weeks to process your request, and shipping takes time.
Two more things to note as you get ready to hand out Constitutions:
- Constitution Day falls on a Saturday this year. If you go to a public college that limits expressive activity on weekends, fill out our case intake form. Cal Poly Pomona tried to limit protest on campus to between 8am and 5pm on weekdays until student Nicolas Tomas filed suit with help from FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project. Rather than defend that unconstitutional restriction in court, Cal Poly changed its policies and settled the lawsuit.
- Torch readers know FIRE takes a very dim view of free speech zones, as does the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations. But it can’t be said too often: A public university can’t limit students to a small, out-of-the-way area to express themselves or hand out Constitutions. Any open area of campus is fair game, as long as no one blocks pathways or forces people who are not interested to engage. If your school tries to banish you to a free speech zone, contact FIRE for help.
Finally, for students who want to celebrate democracy on Constitution Day by campaigning for your favorite political candidate, be aware that you do have a right to engage in partisan political activity on campus as long as you don’t present your views as those of the school. Too often, college administrators shut down student political speech because IRS regulations require the school to remain politically neutral. As explained in FIRE’s Policy Statement on Political Speech, expressing your own partisan political view will not jeopardize a college or university’s tax-exempt status with the IRS. If an administrator tries to stop you from campaigning for a particular candidate, especially if based on the claim that the school has to stay neutral, contact FIRE immediately. This is true of both private and public universities. If freedom of expression means anything, it means that each of us has the right to support the candidate of our choice.
You can make Constitution Day 2016 special on your campus with the resources FIRE provides. Order your pocket constitutions today and gear up to express yourself! If you run into problems, let us know. After all, every day is “Constitution Day” here at FIRE.