A top legal team in the United States, the Alliance Defending Freedom, whose lawyers regularly appear before the U.S. Supreme Court, is warning Congress that the First Amendment is “not well” on college campuses.
“At California State University-Los Angeles, faculty members actually linked arms to prevent students from entering an auditorium to hear a speech from nationally known speaker Ben Shapiro on – ironically – freedom of speech,” the group said this week.
The testimony from ADF was delivered to the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, which was addressing First Amendment protections on university and college campuses.
The issue, which has been in the news for several years already, erupted again this week.
It was the Young Americans for Liberty who were refused recognition by the student government association at Wichita State University.
There, the student senate rejected a resolution to recognize the student chapter.
“Those opposed to the acknowledgment of a Young Americans for Liberty chapter claim to respect free speech, but by blocking YAL, these students are proving that they do not truly believe in the First Amendment,” said YAL President Cliff Maloney Jr. of the dispute. “Rather this small group of power hungry students only approve of speech that aligns with their political agendas.”
“Colleges and universities used to act as a beacon of intellectual discussion and open discourse. It is a shame that a small group of irrational students have prohibited the free speech of their liberty-minded peers. We will continue to seek recognition and challenge their opposition to open, political discourse.”
The issue of “snowflakes” on campus, those who easily are offended by ordinary conversation and the like, became the focal point of a popular television show with actor Tim Allen, whose solution to addressing a crowd recently was, “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, and all of you on the fence”:
ADF noted the subcommittee hearing was on First Amendment violations on university and college campuses.
“Although public universities are supposed to be marketplaces of ideas, they are far too often anything but,” said ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton, one of the authors of the submitted testimony.
“A robust exchange of competing ideas and philosophies is essential to liberty and progress, but today’s campuses have transformed the marketplace of ideas into the intellectual vacuum of government intolerance. In the last decade, ADF has assisted hundreds of students and student groups of varying religious and political beliefs who face violations of their First Amendment freedoms on campus. Our current and recent cases illustrate the breadth of the constitutional crisis students face.”
The organization pointed out the fight already has been in the courts in Michigan, California, Georgia, New York, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Iowa.
The testimony identifies four top problems with unconstitutional protections of “snowflakes”campuses are offering:
- So-called “speech zones,” which restrict constitutionally protected free speech to tiny portions of a campus that are frequently not well traveled.
- Vague harassment and non-discrimination policies that are so ambiguous they censor expression that the First Amendment protects.
- Granting unlimited power to administrators to suppress or favor speech through, for example, the assessment of “security fees” for “controversial speakers,” the denial of recognition to student organizations with viewpoints that administrators don’t prefer or distributing mandatory student fees primarily to favored groups.
- Limiting equal access and free association by preventing some student groups from associating around shared beliefs and choosing only leaders and spokespersons who share those convictions.
“Today’s college students will be tomorrow’s legislators, judges, commissioners and voters,” said ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “That’s why it’s so important that public universities model the First Amendment values they are supposed to be teaching to students, and why it should disturb everyone when many colleges and universities fail to defend these values. We commend the subcommittee for the attention it is paying to this issue.”
The testimony to Congress said: “A significant majority of public universities are restricting the First Amendment rights of speech and association of their students and faculty through a vast array of onerous policies and restrictions that not only violate students’ rights now, but teach them false lessons about how they should think about their own and others’ constitutional rights.”
ADF said that in the last decade, it has “assisted hundreds of students and student groups of varying religious and political beliefs facing violations.”
“While the Center for Academic Freedom has achieved a 100 percent success rate in challenging the all-too-common ‘speech zones’ … universities nevertheless persist in applying such unconstitutional polices.
“The state of the First Amendment on public universities and colleges is not well,” the organization said. “The status quo at most institutions substantially restricts free speech and association, and teaches students that government censorship is the norm, not the exception.”