FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for August 2013: Florida Atlantic University (FAU).
Perhaps in response to some of the recent controversy at the university, FAU—a public university—has adopted a new policy on “Free Speech and Campus Civility” (PDF). That policy states, in relevant part:
Here at FAU, we encourage our campus community to exercise this cherished freedom in lively debate. In fact, we protect and promote that right. What we do insist on, however, is that everyone in the FAU community behave and speak to and about one another in ways that are not racist, religiously intolerant or otherwise degrading to others. (Emphasis added.)
This policy prohibits a great deal of constitutionally protected speech and expression. The ban on “religiously intolerant” speech has the potential to chill speech regarding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, which has been a source of recent controversy at FAU. Heated debate on this and many other topics could quite easily lead, on either side, to claims of “religious intolerance.”
Similarly, the prohibition on any “racist” speech could be used to punish protected speech on controversial issues like immigration and affirmative action, opponents of which are often accused of racism. And the prohibition on “otherwise degrading” speech could apply to speech on virtually any topic that offends another person.
Because of this broad new speech code, Florida Atlantic now earns FIRE’s poorest, “red light” speech code rating. It is laudable that the university wants to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable, but as a public university, FAU cannot pursue this goal at the expense of the First Amendment rights of its students and faculty members. For this reason, FAU is our August 2013 Speech Code of the Month.
If you believe that your college’s or university’s policy should be a Speech Code of the Month, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with a link to the policy and a brief description of why you think attention should be drawn to this code. If you are a current college student or faculty member interested in free speech, consider joining FIRE’s Campus Freedom Network, an organization of college faculty members and students dedicated to advancing individual liberties on their campuses. You can also add FIRE’s Speech Code of the Month widget to your blog or website and help shed some much-needed sunlight on these repressive policies.