What First Amendment Rights Mean for Students
Last week, I received a mass email from a group called The Fire. According to their website, their mission is “to defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience– the Essential qualities of individual liberty and dignity.” I took a law class two semesters ago, and so the article that The Fire had sent to me intrigued me, and I wanted to take a closer look at it.
The article stated that 67% of the nation’s largest and most prestigious campuses currently have speech codes that violate the First Amendment. This statistic is quite alarming, and so after reading the article (which you can find here), I had a look at their full PDF study where they came to this conclusion of the violation of students’ right to free speech, which you can also look at here.
What I came away with from reading and understanding this report and article was less on what The Fire had to say, and more of what I felt as a student myself. Firstly, it’s important to understand that a college cannot violate your First Amendment rights if it is a private institution. The First Amendment says that the government cannot infringe on your rights; a private institution can do essentially whatever it pleases. At least half of the universities that The Fire “investigated” were private colleges. So before you think that your rights are being violated because your dean is censoring your newspaper, realize that that only applies at state-funded schools.
Secondly, even if you do attend a private university, it is important to understand what your rights as a student are and how to cope with the administration and the freedom of speech. Does your newspaper have to be submitted for review by the administration before it can be printed? How does this affect its content? How do you as a student feel about it? How can you have a dialogue between the administration and students about this censorship?
Some universities have good reasons for their censorship. Universities are a place of diverse thoughts and backgrounds, and it would be extremely tense if there were groups who promoted hateful ideas against other groups of people, whether the ideas were racist, religiously intolerant, sexist, etc. On the other hand, these types of speech are (usually) defended by the Constitution. So are universities censoring senselessly or are they doing it with purpose? Are they doing it to maintain power and control or to try to protect their students?
Far from telling you what you should think about colleges and student rights, I simply want to encourage other college students to be aware of what kind of rights you have on your campus. If you attend a government-funded school, your rights are featured in the picture above. If you attend a private school, your rights are listed a document that your school has. If you are concerned about the freedoms your university provides or lacks to provide, ask to see it. Gather a group of other concerned students to discuss what you think should be allowable on a campus. Create a form, a dialogue of some sorts. Just be aware. Understand and protect your rights as a college student.
What are your views on student freedoms on campus? Are you even concerned with your rights as a student on a college campus? Let us know in the comments.
[via The Fire]