December 14, 2018
The most dangerous threat to Americans may be the colleges teaching them. In a country where a majority of students are afraid to voice their views, here's the irony: most campuses don't allow it anyway. That's the bottom line of a new report on U.S. colleges, where a whopping nine in 10 are the First Amendment's worst enemy.
The survey, "Spotlight on Speech Codes 2019: The State of Free Speech on Our Nation's Campuses," combed through the policies of almost 500 American schools to see how well they protect free speech. Of the 466, a whopping 89.7 percent have rules that "restrict -- or too easily could restrict -- student and faculty expression." To most people -- especially parents with kids in college -- it's probably not a surprise that campuses are hostile to debate. What is a surprise is how widespread that hostility has become.
Laura Beltz, lead author of the report at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), was also taken aback by the depth of the censorship. "Colleges should be a place for open debate and intellectual inquiry, but today, almost all colleges silence expression through policies that are often illiberal and, at public institutions, unconstitutional." Almost a quarter of the 466 universities got a red-light rating, the worst on FIRE's scale. It's important to point out, she explains, that this isn't just a problem on public college campuses. Private schools are just as likely to crackdown on speech as the rest of them.
Amazingly, 11 states and the District of Columbia make up the bulk of the red-light campuses: Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, South Carolina, Vermont, Washington, and Wyoming. Some even have "free-speech zones," which have either been struck down by the courts or negotiated away in settlements.
In a country that already has a First Amendment problem, the idea that colleges are creating even more antagonism for free speech is a scary prospect. There's nothing more dangerous to a republic than the rise of totalitarians shutting down debate. Americans are already paying the price for years of political correctness. And now, even the supposed guardians of the free flow of ideas are nowhere to be found. "When was the last time you saw the American Civil Liberties Union stand up for free speech on college campuses?" Harvard Law Professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz asks.
"We can no longer count on the ACLU. We can no longer count on all college administrators. We have to count on people of good sense on college campuses to try to restore a situation where we can hear conservative points of views as well as liberal points of view." The real heroes, he says, "are the students -- the conservative students, the pro-Israel students, the students who stand up for free speech rather than the administrators, and the faculty who are prepared to go along with this censorship..." It only takes a few students to make a difference. Raise yours to have the courage to be one of them!
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.