The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) recently decided to intensify pressure on colleges and universities to adhere to the First Amendment. On July 1st, FIRE President Greg Lukianoff announced to the world that the organization was enacting a new project to strike unconstitutional speech codes from student handbooks around the country.
The organization may sound familiar to you. This is because they have been helping students fight for their First Amendment right for the past 15 years! They recently settled a case at Modesto Junior College, where a student was stopped from handing out pocket constitutions on constitution day, for $50,000! There is even a case pending at the University of Hawaii at Hilo right now.
Unfortunately, many of these cases are discovered after it is too late and students have already suffered the consequences. It is surprising to hear, but 59% of public universities still follow unconstitutional speech codes. This is the case even though countless federal and Supreme Court justices have struck them down time after time!
FIRE’s new initiative, the Stand Up for Speech Litigation Project, will go on the offensive, targeting schools with active unconstitutional speech codes. Lawsuits will be filed against schools across the country. With each victory, by settlement or ruling, FIRE will then use favorable precedent to target a different school in that same circuit.
The first schools to be challenged with this project are:
- Ohio University
- Iowa State University
- Chicago State University
- Citrus College (California)
This is an attempt to illustrate to public universities and their administrators that the First Amendment is not optional but necessary in institutions of higher education. Students and professors alike have a right to political debate, jokes, satire, and many other expressions of free speech, popular or not.
Molly Nocheck, a program associate at FIRE had this to say about the new project:
Our student-plaintiffs have found it very empowering to stand up for speech and their schools. If YAL members are ready to put an end to unconstitutional speech codes, they should email us at email@example.com.
One can only hope that this new project will send the message to public universities that students will fight to keep their rights, even if it means going to court. True education cannot commence until there is free and unchilled discussion flowing freely on college campuses.
FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said it best, stating in his press release;
“Freedom of speech, like all liberties, only survives when people like these brave students and professors are willing to stand up for their rights—to stand up for speech.”
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