The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) recently released their 2018 report on free speech codes on college campuses. The extensive report outlines a ratings system for colleges’ free speech policies, ranging from highly restrictive (red light) to policies that do not seriously threaten or hinder free speech (green light). If you’re concerned about the state of freedom of speech on college campuses, here are some of the most troubling findings from the FIRE report:
Free Speech Restrictions Are Still Significant
Nearly one-third of colleges in FIRE’s report received a red-light rating, which means they have some of the most anti-free speech policies that clearly and significantly restrict individuals’ rights on campus. Although this number is on the decline compared to previous years, this figure is still too high for comfort, considering students’ and college employees’ basic First Amendment rights are at stake.
A Majority of Institutions Have Vague Free Speech Policies
More than 58% of colleges in FIRE’s latest study have vague policies that could either protect or suppress freedom of speech on campus. The wording of these policies are simply too unclear to determine the outcome in potential scenarios, which could lead to dangerous precedents that restrict student and faculty members’ fundamental rights.
Some Colleges Have Implemented “Free Speech Zones”
As we’ve discussed previously, free speech zones on college campuses are likely unconstitutional, drawing from recent court decisions against universities that implemented specific areas of their campuses for open expression. Free speech zones may sound like good ideas initially, until you realize these are actually quite restrictive of students’ and members of the public’s rights to freedom of speech and expression.
If it’s a public community college or university, then why limit freedom of speech to a tiny area of campus? Proponents of free speech zones argue that protests and other disruptive speech acts could hinder students’ ability to get to or concentrate in class. However, these arguments completely ignore the fact that freedom of speech knows no physical boundaries; you cannot limit this freedom to a small, 10′x10′ space on campus. Although one-in-ten colleges currently maintain some kind of free speech zone, the growing number of legal appeals against these zones we’re hopeful that they will be rendered obsolete in the future.
Bias Response Teams Are Evaluating Offensive Speech
According to the FIRE study, 30% of colleges (and more than 50% of private universities) have a “bias response team” on campus. This team is designed to respond to student and faculty reports of speech they deem “offensive” or “hate speech,” either in the classroom, around campus, or elsewhere on the college’s property. Although what constitutes “offensive” speech is largely contestable, these bias response teams use anonymous reports from students to restrict other students’ freedom of expression.
This high-level town hall during the First Amendment National Symposium examined the theme discuss “Inclusive Ways Forward.” Participants included Senator Stuart Adams from Utah, Mr. James Flynn, International President of the Global Peace Foundation, Bishop Juan Carlson Mendez, founder of Churches in Action, and Rev. Herb Lusk, II of the Greater Exodus Baptist Church. Dr. Robert Schuller moderated the discussion.
The Symposium was broken down into three separate, yet inter-related components:
Friday Night Opening Program
Saturday Symposium hosted at the National Constitution Center
Sunday a ‘Call to Prayer & Action’ hosted by Rev. Dr. Herb Lusk, II at Greater Exodus Baptist Church of Philadelphia.
The Symposium was the platform for FAV to move from Phase one, creation, educational and material development, strategic stakeholder commitments, and training sessions, to Phase two, the creation of a national alliance.
First Amendment Voice panel included (left to right) Dr Paul Murray, vice-president of Global Peace Foundation USA, Stanley Carlson-Theis, founder of the International Religious Freedom Alliance, Chelsea Langston-Bombino, Director of Membership and Equipping for the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance , Ted Hoppe, and attorney in Pennsylvania, Peter Bonilla, has been with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
The Symposium’s agenda opened with a plenary that asked speaker’s to address “The First Amendment and Current Issues.” The panel represented, academic, religious, and legal backgrounds and spoke clearly to each of the four components of the First Amendment. Participants were then divided into four groups where they responded to three questions with concepts and processes that could be used in resolving or addressing the identified issues.
A town hall at the First Amendment National Symposium included (left to right) Senator Stuart Adams from Utah, Bishop Juan Carlson Mendez, founder of Churches in Action, Dr. Robert Schuller, who served as the town hall moderator, Rev. Herb Lusk, II of the Greater Exodus Baptist Church and Mr. James Flynn, International President of the Global Peace Foundation, to discuss “Inclusive Ways Forward.”
A high-level Town Hall Meeting was then convened and live streamed across three separate organizational sites. Dr. Robert Schuller served as the moderator. Senator Stuart Adams of Utah, Bishop Juan Carlos Mendez, Rev. Dr. Herb Lusk, II and Jim Flynn all addressed the challenges, concerns, and implications that our nation is facing around the First Amendment.
The symposium concluded with a ceremonial presentation of the second phase of FAV – the establishment of an alliance. The eleven States represented and delegates who stood in support, solidarity, and affirmation for the alliance and its initiatives where:
The official launch of Phase Two of First Amendment Voice included 11 regions around the United States.
District of Columbia
Four platforms were identified as processes and efforts for the FAV Alliance. They are:
Through an established network, bring individuals/groups together as one voice of advocacy with a focus on a developing or current major issue(s).
Through the establishment of a Young Leader’s Advisory Committee, educate Millennials on First Amendment rights and its application to citizenship in the American Democratic Republic where they transition into an advocacy movement.
Engage people and organizations of different faiths, religions & races in order to reclaim religious freedom and rights to express the same as a positive force in society. Building upon a Community-2-Community model which provides monthly forums and/or gatherings.
Convene civic education and engagement through a religious liberties platform by building upon the historical model of the Civil Rights work to aid the social justice movement as they address the growing racial disparities and divide in our nation.
The last two weeks have seen intense social unrest across the country with two different incidents of African American males being shot in Minnesota and Louisiana, followed by protests organized by the Black Lives Matter movement, and punctuated with a sniper killing five police officers and wounding numerous others including some civilians in Dallas.
Our national attention continues to struggle with affording movements like Black Lives Matter with their constitutional First Amendment rights of freedom of assembly and freedom to petition the government for grievance while encouraging all parties to seek civil and inclusive dialogue. President Obama hosted a national town hall meeting to address the subject. The President also spoke at the memorials for the Dallas police officers where former President Bush also joined him in a show of solidarity. The current political climate does not seem to encourage tolerance and respect amongst disagreeing parties, so the sitting and former Presidents attempted to provide the leadership that could bring us toward that goal.
FAV prays that our country is able to address racial bias and promote the aspirational principles set out in our founding documents, that all are created equal and should share in the benefits of liberty, justice and the pursuit of happiness. At a time of national grieving and soul searching, we all need to play a constructive healing role in the dialogue. Our current strife is not just a policing issue or a matter for African Americans to deal with. It is a matter for all Americans to engage in and help chart an inclusive course of citizenship that moves the country toward our founding ideals.
A 3-part “Train the Trainers” presentation was provided to a group of 30 leaders, mainly clergy, in Los Angeles, CA on June 15, 2016. The 4-hour event was hosted by Bishop Mendez of Churches in Action at a local church, Phillips Temple CME Church, Los Angeles, and presented by Alan Inman, Paul Murray, and Steve Miska. The attendees, made up of a multi-cultural background, represented LA communities.
The session was opened by our host with prayer and a welcome. Steve provided an overview of FAV, and Izzy Ortega introduced the idea of E. Pluribus Unum, explaining why the founding principles were relevant to immigrant communities in the United States. The first presentation entitled, “This Far by Faith,” was presented by Mr. Inman. Alan highlighted significant facts and historical revelations regarding the founders, faith leaders, and African Americans in this journey of America. A foundation of the Constitution and in particular the First Amendment was presented during this session.
Dr. Murray presented the second presentation, “A Clear and Present Danger”. His presentation brought forth the many attacks against religious liberties across our nation and in particular against clergy and people of faith who have been attacked because they have spoken or written about Biblical standards. He also presented how individuals and a growing network can address such attacks and protect the religious rights of all people regardless of faith. Dr. Murray kept the discussion interactive as numerous people asked questions or provided their perspective prior to breaking for lunch.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or Abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”