In a piece last week for TIME’s Ideas blog, the executive director of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), Cliff Maloney Jr., drew attention to a problem that FIRE confronts every day in our work: restrictive speech codes on college campuses.
As Maloney notes, colleges and universities across the country maintain policies that limit what students can say and where they can speak on campus. In fact, a majority of America’s top higher education institutions maintain some type of policy that restricts speech and risks infringing on student rights that are either guaranteed by the First Amendment or promised by the school.
YAL’s student members are very familiar with overly restrictive speech codes. Maloney mentions several cases where FIRE stood up for YAL members’ ability to fully exercise their First Amendment rights on campus.
Last year, Blinn College student and YAL member Nicole Sanders filed a lawsuit with the help of FIRE’s Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project. She challenged—and eventually defeated—the Texas public institution’s policy restricting student expression to a tiny “free speech area” of campus.
Earlier this year, we wrote to the University of Delaware after YAL members—who were inviting students to write anything they wanted on a giant, inflatable “free speech ball”—were told by a campus police officer to remove a drawing of a penis from the ball because it might violate the school’s broadly worded sexual misconduct policy.
Just this month, FIRE wrote to Fairmont State University in West Virginia on behalf of a student who was stopped while collecting signatures for YAL because the school’s policy on “solicitation” required advance permission for even core protected expression like petitioning and handing out leaflets.
In response to its members’ frequent encounters with speech codes, Maloney announces the launch of YAL’s national “Fight for Free Speech” campaign. Through on-campus activism, YAL student members will push their campuses to reform unconstitutional and restrictive speech codes and adopt the University of Chicago’s exemplary statement on free expression, which FIRE has publicly endorsed.
FIRE welcomes YAL students’ activism promoting free speech rights on campuses across the country and stands ready to assist students in their effort to push for reform of restrictive speech codes at their institutions.