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. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.
—West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943)
These words recognize that the freedom of conscience is an inviolable right provided to Americans by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Tragically, however, many colleges and universities routinely violate their students’ freedom of conscience by forcing them to submit to mandatory diversity and sensitivity training, and by loyalty oaths that require them to adopt a particular orthodoxy on pain of punishment or as a condition of membership in the university community. Not content with regulating what their students may say (through the unconstitutional speech codes so often the target of FIRE’s wrath), these universities also regulate what their students may believe. For example:
- Students at Bucknell University must pledge that “I understand that bias on the basis of gender, handicapped status, national origin, race, religious belief, or sexual orientation, whether expressed in word or action, is repugnant.”
- Students at Washington State University’s School of Higher Education are evaluated, in part, on their “understanding of the complexities of race, power, gender, class, sexual orientation and privilege in American society.” Before FIRE intervened, a student was ordered to undergo diversity training as a condition of remaining in the education program because his conservative Christian beliefs led to unsatisfactory evaluations.
- Until it was found unconstitutional by a federal judge, Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania maintained a policy stating that “Shippensburg University’s commitment to racial tolerance, cultural diversity and social justice will require every member of this community to ensure that the principles of these ideals be mirrored in their attitudes and behaviors” (emphasis added).
To help prepare students to deal with these Orwellian re-education efforts, FIRE recently released its Guide to First-Year Orientation and Thought Reform on Campus. This Guide, written by Jordan Lorence and Harvey Silverglate, is the fifth and final volume of FIRE’s Guides to Student Rights on Campus. It addresses the numerous types of thought reform that universities attempt to impose upon their students, including: mandatory diversity training; mandatory psychological counseling; demands for ideological uniformity; policies limiting classroom discussion; and ideological requirements for student group recognition. This Guide is a must-read for students at today’s increasingly partisan and repressive colleges and universities. If you are a college or university student—or soon to become one—please visit thefire.org/guides to order a free paperback copy. Anyone can also download any of the Guides from our website for free or purchase copies from Amazon.com.