Is There Freedom Of Speech In College? – Learn Liberty

Is There Freedom Of Speech In College? – Learn Liberty

October 24, 2019 24 By Stanley Isaacs


This photo shows Mary Beth Tinker and
Isaac Smith. Mary Beth sued her school district
when she was sent home for wearing a black armband to
protest the Vietnam War. That act of pushing back
resulted in the landmark decision Tinker v
Des Moines Independent School District. In which the Supreme Court stated
neither students nor teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech
or expression at the school house gate. Isaac Smith sued Ohio University in
July 2014 to force the University to reform a vague policy that
forbade any act that degrades, demeans, or disgraces another student. He feared that broad policy
would be used to punish him and other members of his group,
Students Defending Students, for wearing an off color t-shirt with
the slogan We Get You Off For Free. The two of them are part of a noble
tradition of people standing up to assert their right to express themselves. A tradition that is coming
increasingly under fire on college and university campuses. That photograph captures
the spirit of Fire’s Stand Up For Speech litigation project. Stand Up For
Speech Exists to support any student or faculty member who wants to join
Mary Beth Tinker, Isaac Smith, and countless others in the fight for
free expression. If your expressive rights have
been violated on a college or university campus. And you want to fight back in court,
Fire is waiting to help. My job is to sift through
the numerous inquires Fire gets. And figure out which might be
best resolved through litigation. Just is a word I hear a lot. As in I just wanted to hand out flyers,
but I was told I could only do so in a tiny free speech zone. Or I just wanted to collect signatures for
a petition. Or I just wanted to recruit members for
my student group. When students first contact us,
they’re often apologetic. As if they were the ones
being unreasonable for objecting to being censored. But big principles often
hide in small incidents. After all, Rosa Parks just wanted to keep a seat
on the bus after a long day at work. Stand up for speech targets,
public universities, because they are bound
by the First Amendment. Most people don’t think of universities
as the government, like the police or legislature, or DMV. But university administrators
are public officials and their schools are funded
by taxpayer dollars. That means that the college
administrator tells a student he or she needs special permission or
a permit to speak. It’s censorship, and the First Amendment
exists to make sure that doesn’t happen. Stand Up For Speech works simply. If someone wants to challenge their
school’s unconstitutional speech policies. And we agree that there’s a clear cut
violation of the First Amendment rights. We refer the case to an outside law firm. Then we work with the lawyers and
the plaintiff to reform the policies. The project has a straightforward but
ambitious goal. To change the risk calculation
of university administrators. So that the costs of violating the
First Amendment are greater than the so called benefits of keeping
controversy off campus. But Stand Up For
Speech doesn’t work without plaintiffs. For instance,
plaintiffs like Erin Furleigh and Paul Gerlich,
who sued Iowa State University for censoring their efforts to advocate for
marijuana legalization. Including forbidding them to include
an image of a cannabis leaf on a t-shirt design. In short, students who, to quote Aaron,
believe in standing up for what is right, even when,
especially when you are told to sit down. Stand Up For Speech has sponsored ten
lawsuits in a little over a year. And we will keep doing so until college
and university administrators let rough and tumble intellectual debate
take place without restriction. In other words, until they let
the school fulfill its mission.