It’s that time of year again. The time when students across the country set sail on the four-year (or more) odyssey known as college.
As they arrive on campus, they will be inundated with messages extolling the virtues of academic freedom and freedom of expression. For instance, California State University-Los Angeles tells its students that “[e]xposure to the widest possible range of ideas, viewpoints, opinions and creative expression is an integral and indispensable part of a University education for life in a diverse global society.” And that “[l]earning to respond to the widest possible range of free expression in a civil and responsible manner is an indispensable part of a university education.”
Through these types of messages, colleges assure students (and their parents) that they will be exposed to diverse viewpoints, engage in civil dialogue, and leave college equipped to change the world. (Some colleges convey this message more creatively and enthusiastically than others.)
Unfortunately, many students are lulled to sleep by their colleges’ hypnotic siren song of free expression and free inquiry. And they fail to realize that their First Amendment rights are being dashed to pieces on the jagged rocks of a dizzying array of policies restricting (and sometimes prohibiting) their ability to freely express their opinions and ideas. This may explain why so many students begin their college journey with the desire to stand up for their First Amendment rights but then fail to take any action to challenge unconstitutional policies. You can’t defend your rights if you don’t truly understand what they are and how your university violates them.
That’s where Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) comes in. Here at the ADF Center for Academic Freedom, just like Odysseus and his fearless crew, we have plugged our ears with beeswax (in retrospect, a bad idea) and lashed ourselves to the unyielding mast of the First Amendment to immunize ourselves from the hypnotic effects of the colleges’ beautiful (yet deceitful) song. Our mission is to navigate the treacherous waters of government bureaucracy and awaken slumbering students by broadcasting the sweet refrain of freedom. The students that awake and answer our call will join the ranks of the few, the proud, the #FreedomWoke.
Once students becomes #FreedomWoke, they become aware of their university’s microaggressions against the Constitution and are able to recognize four varieties of college policies that most frequently violate their First Amendment rights: speech zones, speech codes, student fees, and outside speaker policies. Let’s look at a few of our recent cases to illustrate how these policies adversely affect the lives of real students:
- Last fall, Grand Valley State University students Tim McKeeby and Joe Tucker were on an open walkway at their school talking with other students about free speech and encouraging them to write messages on a large beach ball, which they called the “Free Speech Ball.” Campus police stopped and informed them that they would be arrested for trespassing if they continued to exercise First Amendment rights outside of the two very small speech zones on campus. Because Tim and Joe were #FreedomWoke, they called us, we filed a lawsuit, and now students are free to speak in all open, outdoor areas at Grand Valley State University.
- Iowa State University required its students to take an online training program on the university’s speech code policies – and to sign their compliance. The policies specifically stated that “engaging in First Amendment protected speech activities” may be punished as “harassment.” That was troubling to ISU student Robert Dunn. But when he expressed concern with the policies, the University told him that refusing to sign would mean a hold on his graduation and placement on a list of names to be reviewed by the Dean. So, Robert did what any good #FreedomWoke student would do. He called ADF, and we filed a lawsuit. As a result, the university agreed to revise its unconstitutional speech codes so that students are no longer required to surrender their First Amendment rights in order to graduate.
- Emily Faulkner, President of Students for Life at Colorado State University, applied for a “diversity grant” to bring in a speaker that would discuss abortion from a pro-life perspective. The grant provides funds for student groups to bring in outside speakers to promote “awareness of differing perspectives.” But the diversity grant committee denied the grant because – in their opinion – the speaker might not be “unbiased,” or might fail to make everyone “feel affirmed.” This is viewpoint discrimination and is unconstitutional. By now, you know the rest of the story. Emily contacted ADF and now all students groups are eligible to obtain funding for their events regardless of their viewpoint.
- Let’s not forget about California State University-Los Angeles. Mark Kahanding, President of the Young Americans for Freedom at CSULA, wanted to bring conservative commentator Ben Shapiro to campus to speak about free speech. After students and faculty complained, the president of CSULA tried to impose an unconstitutional security fee because the speech was “controversial,” and then he unilaterally canceled the event. When Mark decided to proceed with the event, hundreds of students and faculty physically blocked the doors to the event to prevent students from attending. The CSULA president ordered university police not to interfere with the protesters. After ADF filed a lawsuit, CSULA agreed to modify its unconstitutional policies. And now the students at CSULA will actually have the opportunity to be exposed to the diverse set of viewpoints that the university says is imperative to a good education.
As you head back to college, get #FreedomWoke. Review your school’s speech policies and understand how your school might be regularly violating your rights. By doing so, you can determine whether your school is singing the true song of freedom—or is giving you the siren song of an impostor. And if you determine your school is an impostor, give us a call. We’ll be here on our ship waiting for your call. (If we don’t answer, call back. We probably just forgot to take out the beeswax.)