Throughout history, universities have hosted robust debate on a variety of topics. Students came to school to question and hear new ideas, maybe even ideas that were unwelcome at first. In order for this ideal to continue today, students have to be free to speak on a variety of topics. This May, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education (DOJ and DOE) let students know they would like to substantially curtail student speech on all campuses across the United States. The DOE and DOJ released an agreement with the University of Montana after they investigated the University for improperly dealing with sexual assault cases. Within this agreement, they offered a blueprint for policies dealing with sexual assault and harassment. Instead of focusing on the issue at hand, the agreement covers far more ground. For example, in one section they say students cannot engage in “unwelcome” speech.
Alliance Defending Freedom, along with seven allied student organizations, wrote a letter to the DOJ, DOE, and the University of Montana, explaining how courts have uniformly struck down these speech code policies, as they limit students essential First Amendment rights. Students must be free to speak up on any topic, regardless of whether the campus administration or other students agree with their position or not. When schools try to enact these speech codes, they tell students that free speech rights are irrelevant, and conforming to the administration’s orthodoxy of the day is the most important priority for the University.
By not defining “unwelcome” speech, these policies leave the door open for abuse by administrators. What if a man asks a woman out on a date, and after she declines, he never bothers her again. Should he be expelled for “unwelcome” speech? What if a student tells another that it’s currently quiet hours in the dorm?Should the rule enforcing the student be punished for “unwelcome” speech? What if you want to hand out literature regarding a pregnancy resource center and a pro-abortion student doesn’t want to take the flyer. Should your student group pay a fine because some did not welcome your speech?
Your right to speak up is protected by the First Amendment, regardless of the content of your speech. We at Alliance Defending Freedom are committed to protect students’ rights, so that you are able to live out your faith on campus. To learn more, read the stories of Ruth and Orit or AJ, students who we helped stand up against their Universities’ unconstitutional speech codes. If you are facing a speech code on your campus, tell us your story on our facebook page or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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This post originally appeared here.