College Campuses Are Testing Grounds For Freedom of Speech and Expressions
Dear Friends & Neighbors,
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I remember those days when I was a university student on University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana campus, frequently encountering students debating or discussing controversial social or political viewpoints. We even had a preacher who would routinely come onto our campus to preach Christianity on the quad. No idea was ever banned or forbidden on a free and open university campus. No viewpoint or message may be deemed so hateful or disturbing that it may not be expressed. Freedom of thought and expression is essential to any higher learning institution. The purpose for the existence of universities and colleges is not only to transmit knowledge, but also to explore and expand that knowledge base by testing the old and proposing the new ideas. Some of my preconceived political and social views were challenged and changed during those year.
In recent decade, especially within the past five years, on many university and college campuses, there has been much banning of various expressions as a response to verbal assaults and use of hateful languages or expressions of racist, sexist, homophobic, or ethnically demeaning speech. As a result of this, speech codes often dictates what may or may not be said and “free speech zones” confine free speech to only fraction of the university or college campus areas. It has gotten so extreme (please view the videos below) that various invited scholars or lecturers were not able to present their ideas or research, and many comedians are refusing to appear at university or college campuses. Many believe that university/college campuses are no longer the place to exchange civil ideas, but to become the coddled place and intolerant world of political correctness. Recent survey has also indicated that majority of the university students are now afraid to express their views on university/college campuses. Professor Allison Stanger,with well respected liberal view, of Middlebury College, felt that students have lost great educational opportunities when their protests and violence prevented Charles Murray, co-author of The Bell Curve, from presenting his research. She also commented, “I actually went back and reviewed The Bell Curve and prepared really tough questions that I never got to ask in front of an audience that was listening. It was this groupthink, mob mentality where people were not reading or thinking for themselves, but rather rely on other people to tell them what to think.” Charles Murray commented,”…identity politics is way more intense….it is almost as though we have no common humanity.”
The war on words at college campuses, where protests of deliberately provocative figures, like white supremacists, have extended to lecturers reporting on academic research; and on the backlash over requirements to provide “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” to protect students. University of Chicago president Robert Zimmer, who has advocated against such measures, says, “Discomfort is an intrinsic part of an education.” and sent out a letter to all incoming freshmen that “...we do not support so called “trigger warnings,” we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual “safe spaces.” If people are not challenged and exposed to different viewpoints on college campuses, when will they be?!
A law suit recently backed by the U.S. Justice Department, alleging that such restrictions clamped down on all spontaneous speech, therefore should be banished from campuses. In January a federal district court refused the college’s motion to dismiss the case. In 2017, Colorado, Tennessee, and Utah state legislatures banned free-speech area on college campuses. Virginia, Missouri, and Arizona outlawed these zones before 2017.
Florida’s legislature will consider a bill this session that would ban them, joining 20 other states in guaranteeing free speech on college campuses. This bill, the Campus Free Expression Act, is supported by State Senator Dennis Baxley and State Representative Bob Rommel in preventing schools from forcing students to only voice their opinions within a small area on school campus grounds. Senator Baxley stated, “It is a growing concern that we’re dissolving into a very narrow view of the world that has to be politically correct to a certain standard, and if you have anything to say that’s not in that little square, then the new tactic is not to debate you, but to silence you.” Frank LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida commented, “Every public college in America is going to do away with the notion of free-speech zones.”
The civil liberties watchdog group, FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, has led the charge against free-speech zones on college campuses, and located at least 32.3 percent of the roughly 461 colleges and universities it investigated for its “Spotlight on Speech Codes 2017”, “Spotlight on Speech Codes 2018“, “Speech Code Reports” , maintain policies that seriously infringe upon the free speech rights of students. In recent years, freedom of speech is censored by students as well as administrators, in an Age of Conformity, below:
For those of you who would like to refresh your memory on history of Bill of Rights, please refer to the excerpt in wikipedia, in italics, on United States Bill of Rights, First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and Freedom of Speech and Expression, below:
The Bill of Rights is the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. Proposed following the often bitter 1787–88 battle over ratification of the U.S. Constitution, and crafted to address the objections raised by Anti-Federalists, the Bill of Rights amendments add to the Constitution specific guarantees of personal freedoms and rights, clear limitations on the government’s power in judicial and other proceedings, and explicit declarations that all powers not specifically delegated to Congress by the Constitution are reserved for the states or the people. The concepts codified in these amendments are built upon those found in several earlier documents, including the Virginia Declaration of Rights and the English Bill of Rights 1689, along with earlier documents such as Magna Carta (1215). In practice, the amendments had little impact on judgments by the courts for the first 150 years after ratification.
On June 8, 1789, Representative James Madison introduced nine amendments to the Constitution in the House of Representatives. Among his recommendations Madison proposed opening up the Constitution and inserting specific rights limiting the power of Congress in Article One, Section 9. Seven of these limitations would become part of the ten ratified Bill of Rights amendments. Ultimately, on September 25, 1789, Congress approved twelve articles of amendment to the Constitution, each consisting of one one-sentence paragraph, and submitted them to the states for ratification. Contrary to Madison’s original proposal that the articles be incorporated into the main body of the Constitution, they were proposed as supplemental additions (codicils) to it. Articles Three through Twelve were ratified as additions to the Constitution on December 15, 1791, and became Amendments One through Ten of the Constitution. Article Two became part of the Constitution on May 5, 1992, as the Twenty-seventh Amendment. Article One is technically still pending before the states.
The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution prevents Congress from making any law respecting an establishment of religion, prohibiting the free exercise of religion, or abridging the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, the right to peaceably assemble, or to petition for a governmental redress of grievances. It was adopted on December 15, 1791, as one of the ten amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights.
The Bill of Rights was originally proposed to assuage Anti-Federalist opposition to Constitutional ratification. Initially, the First Amendment applied only to laws enacted by the Congress, and many of its provisions were interpreted more narrowly than they are today. Beginning with Gitlow v. New York (1925), the Supreme Court applied the First Amendment to states—a process known as incorporation—through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
In Everson v. Board of Education (1947), the Court drew on Thomas Jefferson‘s correspondence to call for “a wall of separation between church and State”, though the precise boundary of this separation remains in dispute. Speech rights were expanded significantly in a series of 20th and 21st-century court decisions which protected various forms of political speech, anonymous speech, campaign financing, pornography, and school speech; these rulings also defined a series of exceptions to First Amendment protections. The Supreme Court overturned English common law precedent to increase the burden of proof for defamation and libel suits, most notably in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964). Commercial speech, however, is less protected by the First Amendment than political speech, and is therefore subject to greater regulation.
The Free Press Clause protects publication of information and opinions, and applies to a wide variety of media. In Near v. Minnesota (1931) and New York Times v. United States (1971), the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment protected against prior restraint—pre-publication censorship—in almost all cases. The Petition Clause protects the right to petition all branches and agencies of government for action. In addition to the right of assembly guaranteed by this clause, the Court has also ruled that the amendment implicitly protects freedom of association.
In the United States, freedom of speech and expression is strongly protected from government restrictions by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, many state constitutions, and state and federal laws. The Supreme Court of the United States has recognized several categories of speech that are given lesser or no protection by the First Amendment and has recognized that governments may enact reasonable time, place, or manner restrictions on speech. The First Amendment’s constitutional right of free speech, which is applicable to state and local governments under the incorporation doctrine, only prevents government restrictions on speech, not restrictions imposed by private individuals or businesses unless they are acting on behalf of the government. However, laws may restrict the ability of private businesses and individuals from restricting the speech of others, such as employment laws that restrict employers’ ability to prevent employees from disclosing their salary with coworkers or attempting to organize a labor union.
The First Amendment’s freedom of speech right not only proscribes most government restrictions on the content of speech and ability to speak, but also protects the right to receive information, prohibits most government restrictions or burdens that discriminate between speakers, restricts the tort liability of individuals for certain speech, and prevents the government from requiring individuals and corporations to speak or finance certain types of speech with which they don’t agree.
Criticism of the government, political advocacy, and advocacy of unpopular ideas that people may find distasteful or against public policy are almost always permitted. Categories of speech that are given lesser or no protection by the First Amendment include obscenity (as determined by the Miller test), fraud, child pornography, speech integral to illegal conduct, speech that incites imminent lawless action, and regulation of commercial speech such as advertising. Within these limited areas, other limitations on free speech balance rights to free speech and other rights, such as rights for authors over their works (copyright), protection from imminent or potential violence against particular persons, restrictions on the use of untruths to harm others (slander), and communications while a person is in prison. When a speech restriction is challenged in court, it is presumed invalid and the government bears the burden of convincing the court that the restriction is constitutional.
Gathered, written, and posted by Windermere Sun-Susan Sun Nunamaker
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