RALEIGH, N.C., January 10, 2006—Today, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy released their Report on the State of the First Amendment in the University of North Carolina System. The Report explains precisely what the First Amendment obligations of the UNC System schools are—and shows that most of them are emphatically not meeting those obligations.
“The revelations in our Report ought to outrage everyone in North Carolina,” said FIRE Interim President Greg Lukianoff. “The UNC System is disregarding the First Amendment at public expense, each and every day.”
FIRE and the Pope Center unveiled the Report on the State of the First Amendment in the University of North Carolina System this afternoon at a joint press conference. As the Report points out, “the universities in the UNC System are legally bound to uphold the First Amendment rights of their students and faculty. They are failing miserably.” Specifically, the Report reveals that “13 out of the 16 schools in the UNC System have at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.” Some of these overbroad and vague speech codes include:
- Appalachian State University’s ban on “insults, taunts, or challenges directed toward another person”;
- North Carolina Central University’s practice of outlawing “statements of intolerance,” a mirror image of a speech code deemed unconstitutional in Pennsylvania;
- UNC Asheville’s requirement that all students “respect the dignity of all persons” and “strive for the openness to learn from differences in people” lest they be punished; and
- UNC Greensboro’s Orwellian policy of outlawing “disrespect for persons.”
Beyond its speech code, UNC Greensboro has also made headlines recently for its restrictive “free speech zone.” Incredibly, administrators there are putting two students on trial later this month for protesting the existence of the “free speech zone” outside the “free speech zone.”
The Report goes on to describe the particular enmity the UNC System seems to have for religious liberty. FIRE had to intervene in 2002 and 2004 at UNC Chapel Hill to protect Christian student groups threatened with dissolution for refusing to admit members who did not share their beliefs. A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against the UNC policy used in those cases last year. Shockingly, similar policies exist at a laundry list of other UNC System schools: Appalachian State University, East Carolina University, Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University, North Carolina A&T State University, UNC Asheville, UNC Charlotte, UNC Greensboro, UNC Pembroke, UNC Wilmington, Western Carolina University, and Winston Salem State University.
At the end of the Report, FIRE and the Pope Center suggest several potential remedies for the situation in North Carolina. As the Report notes, the UNC System’s many speech codes and illiberal restrictions on religious groups would likely not survive a legal challenge. FIRE’s Speech Codes Litigation Project has already led to the demise of similar codes at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, Texas Tech University, Citrus College, and the State University of New York at Brockport. The North Carolina legislature could also craft a uniform anti-harassment policy that would instantly make the various campuses’ speech codes obsolete.
“North Carolina exemplifies so much that is wrong with American higher education today,” Lukianoff said. “From its unconstitutional speech codes to its quashing of religious groups, the UNC System contains perfect examples of all the things we are fighting nationwide. We look forward to seeing the reaction of the people—and the legislature—of North Carolina to our Report.”
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across North Carolina can be viewed at thefire.org/nc.
Greg Lukianoff, Interim President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org