3 Recent Victories for Campus Free Speech that You Should Know About

By Sarah Kramer Posted on: | May 14, 2018

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) attorneys on the Center for Academic Freedom (CAF) team are hard at work ensuring a proper understanding of the Constitution is alive and well on college and university campuses across the country.

And that is no small or insignificant task. In fact, college and university campuses seem to be the first place where our constitutional liberties are attacked – which can have lasting implications.

After all, the university is meant to be a marketplace of ideas, where students can encounter and learn how to peacefully interact with different beliefs and ideas. If their university officials are shutting down speech and excluding certain viewpoints, however, students learn that the First Amendment doesn’t matter – that they can simply call on the government to censor the viewpoints they do not like.

Today’s college students go on to become tomorrow’s voters and civic leaders, which is why learning a proper understanding of how the First Amendment works is so crucial during their time in school.

Thankfully, the CAF attorneys continue to see victories on campuses across the country, where they have already secured nearly 400 victories for free expression and academic freedom.

Last week, the CAF team added three more victories to that quickly growing list:

Lone Star College System – Houston, Texas

The Young Conservatives of Texas group on the CyFair campus contacted ADF when their group was derecognized after they posted a video online of an abortion debate they sponsored with the school’s permission.

Under college policies, officials were given unchecked power to recognize and derecognize student groups based solely on whether the officials approved of the groups’ viewpoints. The policies also required all students to pay student activity fees to fund student organization activities but only allowed student groups that college officials preferred to draw from those funds.

In response to an ADF lawsuit, Lone Star College officials have agreed to change the policies so that student groups are not excluded because of their viewpoints or treated worse than groups with favored viewpoints.

“These policy changes will ensure that the marketplace will function properly at Lone Star College, where previously only administrator-approved ideas were allowed,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer.

University of North Carolina, Pembroke (UNCP) – Pembroke, North Carolina

The Young Americans for Liberty at UNCP, a campus chapter of the national YAL organization, set out to recruit new members in the fall of 2017 in the hopes of becoming a registered student organization. To do so, they held a free speech event where they had students write free speech messages on a large beach ball. Only after planning the event did they learn that they had violated several campus speech policies.

The campus speech policies limited speech activities to small zones within the public campus community, required prior approval for literature distribution, and held that university administrators could ban content they deemed “offensive.” Even though they weren’t punished, the YAL students recognized these policies for what they were – an attack on their constitutional rights – and contacted ADF.

ADF sent a letter to university officials asking them to change their policies, which, after a review period, they agreed to do. “We commend YAL students for standing up for the free marketplace of ideas on their campus. We also commend UNCP for quickly revising its policies to ensure that the next generation of students can speak freely and peacefully, regardless of their viewpoint, without fear of penalties,” said ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton.

Colorado Mesa University – Grand Junction, Colorado

When Karissa Erickson, a graduating student at Colorado Mesa University, put together her remarks to speak at the nursing school’s pinning ceremony, she included a reference to Jesus and a Bible verse. But a university official told her to remove those references, saying, “Speeches should be free of any one religious slant.” Other officials threatened her with “repercussions” if she refused, saying the nursing “program will not tolerate [this Christian content].”

So Karissa reached out to ADF for help. ADF attorneys sent a letter to the school, explaining that the First Amendment allows religious remarks at graduation ceremonies and that censoring Karissa’s religious speech would actually be a violation of the Constitution.

Thankfully, the university acted quickly and acknowledged that students invited to speak at the ceremony should do so uncensored. Karissa was able to give her remarks, unhindered, last week.

“We applaud the university for quickly recognizing that the First Amendment protects a graduating student’s right to mention her faith in her own speech and has never required universities to purge ceremonies of all things religious,” said ADF Legal Counsel Travis Barham.