Campus free speech is an issue constantly making headlines as colleges and universities continue to institute speech codes in the name of tolerance that have the opposite effect—creating more intolerance for diverse ideas.
“Students’ free speech rights are constantly suppressed across American college campuses,” says Students For Liberty’s Natalie Bao Tram Le who has led this fight at Harvard, where she is a student, as well as nationally.
Le wrote in April at the Harvard Crimson, “Recently, a student sued Los Angeles Pierce College after he was prohibited from passing out pocket constitutions outside the college’s ‘free speech zone,’ which confines speech activities to a small outdoor area.”
“Harvard is no exception; it has speech codes that clearly infringe upon students’ First Amendment rights,” Le observed, citing one example as her school’s racial harassment policy, which bars students from “using racial epithets, making racially derogatory remarks and using racial stereotypes.”
Natalie says that in the name of good intentions, institutions of higher learning have muzzled students to an alarming degree. She notes that at Emory University, a sidewalk chalk message of “Trump 2016” was reported as “hate speech.”
Whether you like or loathe Trump, “Trump 2016” is political speech—precisely the type of free expression generations of Americans have wanted to protect dating all the way back to the Founders.
Which is exactly the principle Le wants to return to. She believes colleges and universities, public or private, should honor the First Amendment as a primary bedrock principle crucial to higher learning.
“Why must we embrace free speech?” asks Le. “Colleges and universities afford students the opportunity to voluntarily exchange ideas that help them to mature intellectually and prepare for life after graduation.”
“That is why it is crucial for campus speech codes to reflect the First Amendment,” Le says.
The conventional idea of free speech in the U.S. has long been that incendiary speakers should be allowed to say outlandish or even hateful things, whether coming from the left or right, and other citizens in turn are also free to speak out against and reject what they see as deplorable views.
That’s how freedom is supposed to work—it polices itself.
Instead, through illiberal speech codes, too many campuses are essentially rejecting free speech wholesale when they insist that some offensive views are so heinous they should not be expressed. Recent controversies involving right-wingers, like Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter; and liberal, Bill Maher have highlighted the growing intolerance of a diversity of views on campus.
You don’t have to agree with Yiannopoulos, Coulter or Maher to agree that they should have the right to speak — as you have the right to speak against them.
It really is that simple. Everyone used to understand this. That so many major universities no longer respect this basic principle is troubling.
Le told Rare, “The purpose of higher education is to foster intellectual development and prepare students to become value creators in our society; yet with the movement of coddling growing so rapidly, students are becoming more sensitive and not tolerant of diverse ideas and opinions.”
“Instead of listening and engaging in intellectual discourse,” Le continues “students result to violent protests simply because they do not like what they hear.”
“It is unfortunate that speech and expression are constantly being encroached and universities are losing sight of that mission, which is to allow the free exchange of thoughts and opinions on campus,” Le concludes.
Le is one of many Students For Liberty who continue to fight for free speech while this fundamental freedom is under assault on America’s campuses like never before.