Colleges and universities across the nation are in full swing as students flock to campuses to have their minds engaged, thoughts challenged, and worldviews expanded. While institutions of higher learning have long been a symbol of the marketplace of ideas, many American universities are implementing practices and policies that outright violate the constitutional rights of their students. Some brave students are standing up to these infringements of speech and assembly, and with the help of the Alliance Defending Freedom Center for Academic Freedom, they are making a difference for themselves and the students who will follow.
Let’s take a look.
Chike Uzuegbunam, a student at Georgia Gwinnett College, sought to share his Christian faith with his fellow students on campus. While he was sharing his faith, he was told by college officials that he was only allowed to speak and hand out literature in the college’s designated speech zones. Rather than allowing students to speak throughout the campus, the college designated a mere 0.0015 percent of the campus grounds and opened those speech zones for a mere 18 hours per week. Chike complied, but the violation of his rights didn’t end there.
After about 20 minutes of speaking in the designated area, Chike was approached by campus police who told him that they had received complaints and that he had to cease speaking entirely. Not only that, but the college officials also found him in violation of their speech policy, claiming that he was engaged in “disorderly conduct.” Maureen Collins explains the absurdity of this situation at the ADF Blog:
All Chike wanted to do was talk to other students on campus about his faith, and he should have been free to do so. Our Constitution protects every individual’s right to free speech. Further, college campuses are supposed to be places where students are exposed to many different viewpoints and dialogue between opposing views flourishes. So Chike should not have been silenced just because someone else did not like (or did not want to hear) what Chike was saying.
Chike is far from the only one to have his rights violated by overzealous campus officials. At Kellogg Community College in Michigan, Michelle Gregoire and several other supporters of Young Americans for Liberty were handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution and gauging interest from other students in joining their student group. They were confronted by officials who said they had not obtained a permit (to hand out copies of the Constitution!) and that the only allowable place to engage in this activity was at the information table in the Student Union building.
Michelle and her friends stood their ground and refused to have their First Amendment rights violated. The Kellogg officials’ response was unimaginable: They had three of them arrested and jailed for seven hours.
Students being silenced at institutions of higher learning is a trending problem that the Center for Academic Freedom (CAF) is working to end. Even when officials aren’t suppressing speech, some professors are taking up that mantel.
At California State University in Fresno, the Students for Life chapter received permission from the school to chalk pro-life messages around the campus grounds. But a health professor took it upon himself to erase the messages and disrupt the speech of Students for Life. The professor and the students he recruited for the act of vandalism were caught on video telling Students for Life that “college campuses are not free speech areas.” Bernadette Tasy, the club’s president, sued the professor with the help of CAF, and as part of the settlement agreement in that case, the professor had to undergo First Amendment training from ADF.
These and many other victories on behalf students’ constitutional rights are encouraging testaments to the work of CAF, but the fact that these situations are happening in the first place speaks to the authoritarian streak of many in academia when they encounter opposing views. Some colleges are guilty of not recognizing student groups, like Students for Life at Queen’s College in New York, or of silencing these groups by withholding funding to which they are entitled. Other schools also make it hard for certain groups to hold events, like the University of Minnesota did to conservative student groups that had invited Ben Shapiro to speak on campus.
Students are by and large winning these challenges, but some colleges attempt to avoid justice by taking advantage of a student’s relatively short college career. Those school officials change the rules and then skate by any penalties if they wait until the student is graduated and not subject to the school policies any longer. While this recently happened to Chike, the Center for Academic Freedom remains steadfast in seeking complete justice for him
and students like him. School officials and teachers alike have an obligation to preserve the free marketplace of ideas by upholding the First Amendment rights of all their students.