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Campus free speech crackdowns and court rulings

Valentina Petrova/AP

Valentina Petrova/AP

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) recently filed a lawsuit against the administration of California State University-Los Angeles because of an apparent disregard for First Amendment rights. The suit, filed on the behalf of the conservative student group Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) and conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro, targets President William Covino and professors on the campus for unconstitutionally blocking their right to free speech.

The Christian Times reports that the suit, which was filed on May 23, was a response to a YAF-sponsored event that Shapiro was scheduled to speak at in late February of this year. What was meant to be a guest lecture was met with massive protests and people blocking the entrance to the auditorium where the event was taking place. Shapiro needed a security escort to get through the crowds of protesting students, staff, faculty, and random bystanders.

His crime? Challenging the ideas of diversity in higher education with his presentation series, “When Diversity Becomes a Problem.”

The Cal State incident is one of the most recent examples of stifled free speech on university campuses across the United States. What the university community touts as a long-held respect for freedom of thought has become a challenge to the dominant point of view, progressive policy, and diversity.

In April, Gallup concluded that over half of the 3,000 college students surveyed wanted to restrict specific components of free speech. 69 percent of respondents supported disciplinary action against both students and faculty members who use “microaggressions” — a category of speech that is viewed to some as racist, sexist, and even homophobic in some instances. As The Atlantic characterized the study, “[students] say the First Amendment is outdated.”

Consequently, there has been a rise of incidents that have suggested that free speech is a thing of the past. The whole paradigm of such rights is at war with the liberal agenda of limiting speech to protect “disenfranchised groups” of people.

In May, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a law that prevents Arizona colleges and universities from restricting free speech when it is in a public forum.

“Part of the university experience is to be able to express diverse views, openly, without fear of retribution or intimidation — and to be exposed to other views and perspectives, even if they aren’t politically correct or popular,” said Ducey.

He added that this is a step to, “ensure an individual’s right to engage in free speech isn’t shut down by someone else who disagrees with his or her perspective.”

In another recent lawsuit, a judge ruled in favor of a conservative Christian group whose members had to request speech permits from the administration of North Carolina State University.

In this case, the group, Grace Christian Life, argued that NC State officials unfairly applied the university’s so-called speech-permitting policy to them and not to other student groups. This was the case despite the club being a registered student organization like others on the campus.

“Because the only permit required for free speech on a public university campus is the First Amendment, we welcome the court’s decision to put a stop to NC State’s policy,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer in a press release. “NC State is acting inconsistently with its own calling as a marketplace of ideas with this unconstitutional restriction on free speech.”

The process that was struck down by the courts prevented the students from preaching about their faith in public spaces.

Consequently, the NC State administration contends that they do not have a “permit” process in place. It is a solicitation policy.

“The issue is really about a simple administrative process the university uses to schedule hundreds of solicitation requests,” says Mick Kulikowski, NC State’s Assistant Director for News and National Media Coordinator in an email to Red Alert Politics. “This process ensures groups have equal access to the space to conduct their activities, permits the free flow of pedestrian traffic in and out of buildings, and allows educational activities to continue without disruption.”

Regardless of the nature of the policy, Kulikowski indicated that the university administration would comply with the court’s preliminary injunction.

“The university will continue to administer a permitting process for commercial solicitation on campus, and we will facilitate all solicitations while managing legitimate time, place, and manner issues,” Kulikowski, “The university’s administrative process for handling thousands of solicitation requests each year was never intended to prohibit student conversations.”

Though the NC State case is just one of the numerous First Amendment cases adjudicated each year, it was a positive step for proponents of free speech on college campuses.

In addition, numerous organizations like the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) fight legal battles against universities that have unconstitutional speech codes. In an annual case study of the speech codes on college campuses, FIRE concluded that 49.3 percent of the 440 colleges surveyed have speech codes that, “seriously infringe upon the free speech rights of students.”

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