Last week, we reported that James Madison University (JMU) is the 15th university in the nation to earn FIRE’s best, "green light" rating by eliminating the last of its speech codes. An article in today’s edition of JMU’s student newspaper The Breeze praises the university for this victory for students’ rights and extolls the virtues of freedom of speech. Lucas Wachob of The Breeze writes:
Freedom of speech is perhaps the most widely embraced political ideal in American history. It was singled out for protection from the federal government as early as the First Amendment, extended to the states and localities by the 14th Amendment, and is now revered as a key characteristic that differentiates free nations from oppressive regimes.
But protecting free speech isn’t simple. While it’s commonly agreed in this country that criticisms of the government, social norms or other powerful institutions must be allowed in order to promote social awareness, growth and individual dignity, we’re faced with ideas that are deeply offensive to us.
This year, it’s become clear that JMU is a true believer in free speech. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a national organization, announced last Tuesday that JMU had "eliminated the last of its speech codes, earning the highest ‘green light’ rating for free speech."
The article also recognizes there is still work to be done nationwide, as only a small percentage of colleges and universities have earned this rating:
Public universities are funded by the government and typically run by the states. Because of this, all students are entitled to their First Amendment rights. In any discussion of student rights and freedoms, comparisons between private and public universities are meaningless.
That explains some of it, but still, the vast majority of public universities must be clearly restricting students’ speech rights if only 14 schools are "green lights." Oftentimes this happens because schools have policies requiring demonstrations be registered or approved, fliers be in "good taste," or that students may not speak or email potentially offensive comments.
JMU has joined The College of William & Mary and the University of Virginia as the third school to go green in Virginia. As a JMU alumna, I share in fellow Virginians’ and JMU graduates’ pride, and I hope that colleges and universities across the country follow the Commonwealth of Virginia’s example and eliminate all of their unconstitutional speech codes. Way to go, Dukes!