FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for March 2010: Murray State University in Kentucky. According to Murray State’s Student Life Policies, conduct violations in the university’s residence halls may be punished by “creative educational sanctions,” such as “writ[ing] a letter of apology” and “mak[ing] signs or bulletin boards.” These sanctions amount to compelled speech that violates Murray State’s legal and moral obligations as a public institution to uphold its students’ First Amendment right to freedom of conscience.
Along with the right to free speech, the First Amendment protects speakers from being forced to make statements against their will. As the Supreme Court declared in the landmark case of West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 642 (1943): “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.” The Court concluded that “the purpose of the First Amendment to our Constitution” was precisely to protect “from all official control” the domain that was “the sphere of intellect and spirit.” Whether or not the underlying conduct violation was speech-related, forcing students to write a letter of apology or to make signs or bulletin boards expressing a particular viewpoint violates their right to freedom of conscience—their right to be free from governmental intrusion into their inner thoughts and feelings.
For this reason, Murray State University is our March 2010 Speech Code of the Month. If you believe that your college or university should be a Speech Code of the Month, please e-mail email@example.com 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 these issues, consider joining FIRE’s Campus Freedom Network, a loose affiliation of college faculty members and students dedicated to advancing individual liberties on their campuses. And if you would like to help fight abuses at universities nationwide, add FIRE’s Speech Code of the Month Widget to your blog, website, or Facebook profile and help shed some much-needed sunlight on these repressive policies.