Freedom of speech has long been a controversial issue in this country; since the First Amendment was first introduced into the Constitution, people have argued what limits should be imposed on freedom of speech. In our time, this argument is nowhere more prevalent then on college campuses across the nation. This past Thursday, the YAL chapter at American University had the distinct privilege of hosting Greg Lukianoff.
Lukianoff, an American University alum, is the current president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), an organization dedicated to preserving free speech on college campuses. Lukianoff explained the efforts made by his organization to promote and protect speech on campuses, something not at all unfamiliar to AU students who hold unpopular opinions.
Lukianoff began by recounting the historical significance of freedom of speech on college campuses; as a graduate of Stanford Law School, he made several references to precedent set by the Supreme Court that either expanded or limited free speech. Lukianoff walked the audience through the sort of work FIRE does to protect free speech on college campuses.
Lukianoff explained, American University has implemented at least one policy that severely restricts free speech on campus. Lukianoff called on AU students to help change the university’s policies. Although Lukianoff has long since graduated from AU, it was clear he was familiar with the university’s speech codes that still hinder students today.
After his presentation, Lukianoff opened the floor to the audience for questions. Students and other audience members asked Lukianoff about the sort of opportunities open to them to protect freedom of speech on AU’s campus. As mentioned beforehand, Lukianoff asked students to pressure their university to change its unclear student conduct policies. In addition, Lukianoff asked students to help support FIRE’s mission by becoming part of its student network. Other members of the audience asked Lukianoff about FIRE’s ongoing court battles, the sensible limits of free speech, and even his own experiences with speech limitations as a student. Before his departure, Lukianoff handed out copies of Unlearning Liberty to students and posed for a photo with AU YAL’s executive board.
The battle for free speech on college campuses is far from done; seemingly every day school’s implement new rules to bar “offensive” speech, which ultimately discriminates against minority opinions and overrides constitutional rights. However, people like Greg Lukianoff and organizations like FIRE are constantly fighting to protect these rights. Like YAL, Lukianoff and FIRE recognize speech as a cornerstone of individual liberty worth protecting at all costs.